Endotracheal intubation and invasive mechanical ventilation have been mainstays in respiratory care of neonates with respiratory distress syndrome. Together with antenatal steroids and surfactant, this approach has accounted for significant reductions in neonatal mortality. However, with the increased survival of very low birthweight infants, the incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), the primary respiratory morbidity of prematurity, has also increased. Arrest of alveolar growth and development and the abnormal development of the pulmonary vasculature after birth are the primary causes of BPD. However, invasive ventilation-associated lung inflammation and airway injury have long been believed to be important contributors. In fact, discontinuing invasive ventilation in favor of noninvasive respiratory support has been considered the single best approach that neonatologists can implement to reduce BPD. In this review, we present and discuss the mechanisms, efficacy, and long-term outcomes of the four main approaches to noninvasive respiratory support of the preterm infant currently in use: nasal continuous positive airway pressure, high-flow nasal cannula, nasal intermittent mandatory ventilation, and neurally adjusted ventilatory assist. We show that noninvasive ventilation can decrease rates of intubation and the need for invasive ventilation in preterm infants with respiratory distress syndrome. However, none of these noninvasive approaches decrease rates of BPD. Accordingly, noninvasive respiratory support should be considered for clinical goals other than the reduction of BPD.
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