Lawrence Rhein, MD, is the director of the Center for Health Infant Lung Development and member of the divisions of Newborn Medicine and Pulmonology & Respiratory Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital.
How much oxygen is too little, and how much is too much?
We all need reasonable oxygen levels to function appropriately, but this is especially true of premature infants, whose immature lungs and growing tissues are exquisitely sensitive to oxygen levels.
Some diseases or conditions, like lung disease of prematurity, can result in lower oxygen levels and potentially cause serious, even fatal, harm. We can provide supplemental oxygen, but this too can have significant side effects, especially in premature infants. If given in excess, oxygen can cause injury to an infant’s eyes (in the form of retinopathy of prematurity) and lungs.
As a result, finding the right target balance of oxygen delivery, while crucial, can be challenging. Too much oxygen is bad, but so is too little. …