Early surfactant administration with brief ventilation vs. selective surfactant and continued mechanical ventilation for preterm infants with or at risk for respiratory distress syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is the single most important cause of illness and death in preterm infants. Common treatments for RDS include supplemental oxygen and nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP). For severe RDS, surfactant administration during mechanical ventilation is used. Although treating RDS with surfactant improves clinical outcomes, mechanical ventilation can cause lung injury in preterm infants with RDS and contribute to the development of chronic lung disease (oxygen requirements at 36 weeks) and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (requirement for supplementary oxygen at 28 days, BPD). An important question is whether giving early surfactant with planned brief mechanical ventilation followed by prompt extubation (to NCPAP) is better than selectively giving surfactant when RDS has worsened causing respiratory insufficiency necessitating mechanical ventilation. The review authors identified six randomized trials reported between 1994 and 2006 that met the selection criteria for this review. A strategy of early surfactant administration with extubation to NCPAP was associated with significant reductions in the need for mechanical ventilation, fewer air leak syndromes (such as pneumothorax) and lower incidence of BPD compared with a strategy of later selective surfactant administration and continued mechanical ventilation in infants with RDS. The findings suggest that a lower treatment threshold (oxygen requirement < 0.45) confers greater advantage than does a higher treatment threshold (oxygen requirement > 0.45).

An early surfactant therapy strategy results in a greater number of infants receiving surfactant and so more infants being exposed to the potential risks of intubation and surfactant administration. Although no complications of surfactant administration were reported in the studies reviewed, infants treated with an early surfactant therapy strategy tended to have a higher prevalence of patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Two trials were terminated prior to achieving the targeted enrollment when the need for mechanical ventilation was found to be significantly different between groups at a scheduled interim analysis. Two other trials experienced slow enrollment leading to reduced numbers.

Authors' conclusions: 

Early surfactant replacement therapy with extubation to NCPAP compared with later selective surfactant replacement and continued mechanical ventilation with extubation from low ventilator support is associated with less need mechanical ventilation, lower incidence of BPD and fewer air leak syndromes. A lower treatment threshold (FIO2< 0.45) confers greater advantage in reducing the incidences of airleak syndromes and BPD; moreover a higher treatment threshold (FIO2 at study > 0.45) was associated with increased risk of PDA. These data suggest that treatment with surfactant by transient intubation using a low treatment threshold (FIO2< 0.45) is preferable to later, selective surfactant therapy by transient intubation using a higher threshold for study entry (FIO2 > 0.45) or at the time of respiratory failure and initiation of mechanical ventilation.

Read the full abstract...

Both prophylactic and early surfactant replacement therapy reduce mortality and pulmonary complications in ventilated infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) compared with later selective surfactant administration. However, continued post-surfactant intubation and ventilation are risk factors for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). The purpose of this review was to compare outcomes between two strategies of surfactant administration in infants with RDS; prophylactic or early surfactant administration followed by prompt extubation, compared with later, selective use of surfactant followed by continued mechanical ventilation.


To compare two treatment strategies in preterm infants with or at risk for RDS: early surfactant administration with brief mechanical ventilation (less than one hour) followed by extubation vs. later selective surfactant administration, continued mechanical ventilation, and extubation from low respiratory support. Two populations of infants receiving early surfactant were considered: spontaneously breathing infants with signs of RDS (who receive surfactant administration during evolution of RDS prior to requiring intubation for respiratory failure) and infants at high risk for RDS (who receive prophylactic surfactant administration within 15 minutes after birth).

Search strategy: 

Searches were made of the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials, MEDLINE (1966 - December 2006), CINAHL (1982 to December Week 2, 2006), EMBASE (1980 - December 2006), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2006), Pediatric Research (1990 - 2006), abstracts, expert informants and hand searching. No language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized or quasi-randomized controlled clinical trials comparing early surfactant administration with planned brief mechanical ventilation (less than one hour) followed by extubation vs. selective surfactant administration continued mechanical ventilation, and extubation from low respiratory support.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data were sought regarding effects on the incidence of mechanical ventilation (ventilation continued or initiated beyond one hour after surfactant administration), incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), chronic lung disease (CLD), mortality, duration of mechanical ventilation, duration of hospitalization, duration of oxygen therapy, duration of respiratory support (including CPAP and nasal cannula), number of patients receiving surfactant, number of surfactant doses administered per patient, incidence of air leak syndromes (pulmonary interstitial emphysema, pneumothorax), patent ductus arteriosus requiring treatment, pulmonary hemorrhage, and other complications of prematurity. Stratified analysis was performed according to inspired oxygen threshold for early intubation and surfactant administration in the treatment group: inspired oxygen within lower (FiO2< 0.45) or higher (FiO2 > 0.45) range at study entry. Treatment effect was expressed as relative risk (RR) and risk difference (RD) for categorical variables, and weighted mean difference (WMD) for continuous variables.

Main results: 

Six randomized controlled clinical trials met selection criteria and were included in this review. In these studies of infants with signs and symptoms of RDS, intubation and early surfactant therapy followed by extubation to nasal CPAP (NCPAP) compared with later selective surfactant administration was associated with a lower incidence of mechanical ventilation [typical RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.57, 0.79], air leak syndromes [typical RR 0.52, 95% CI 0.28, 0.96] and BPD [typical RR 0.51, 95% CI 0.26, 0.99]. A larger proportion of infants in the early surfactant group received surfactant than in the selective surfactant group [typical RR 1.62, 95% CI 1.41, 1.86]. The number of surfactant doses per patient was significantly greater among patients randomized to the early surfactant group [WMD 0.57 doses per patient, 95% CI 0.44, 0.69]. In stratified analysis by FIO2 at study entry, a lower threshold for treatment (FIO2< 0.45) resulted in lower incidence of airleak [typical RR 0.46 and 95% CI 0.23, 0.93] and BPD [typical RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.20, 0.92]. A higher treatment threshold (FIO2 > 0.45) at study entry was associated with a higher incidence of patent ductus arteriosus requiring treatment [typical RR 2.15, 95% CI 1.09, 4.13].