Giving premature babies caffeine improves their lung function in later life, new research reveals.
Premature babies who are given caffeine perform significantly better in tests that measure their ability to breathe out at 11 years old, a study found.
They are also significantly better at exhaling during a forced breath, the research adds.
Previous studies have demonstrated caffeine acts as a respiratory stimulant that improves short-term breathing rates and the lungs' ability to stretch and expand.
Such improvements have been linked to a reduced need for ventilation assistance.
How the study was carried out
Researchers from the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne analysed 142 11-year-olds who were previously enrolled in the 'Caffeine for Apnea of Prematurity' study.
All of the study's participants weighed between 1.1lb and 2.8lb less than 10 days after birth.
They were either treated with caffeine or a placebo for an average of 43 weeks.
The surviving participants of the original study then had their ability to breathe out assessed at 11 years old.
Their parents also completed questionnaires about the children's respiratory health.
Results revealed that the children who were treated with caffeine performed significantly better in tests that measured their ability to breathe out.
They were also significantly better at exhaling during a forced breath.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
How does caffeine boost lung function?
Previous studies have demonstrated caffeine is a respiratory stimulant that improves breathing rates in the short term.
Caffeine has also been shown to improve the lungs' ability to stretch and expand.
Such improvements have been linked to a reduce need for ventilation assistance.
What the researchers say
Lead author Dr Lex Doyle said: 'Previous studies have shown that caffeine, which belongs to a group of drugs known as methylxanthines, reduces apnea of prematurity, a condition in which the baby stops breathing for many seconds.
'It would be desirable to repeat lung function more extensively later in life, and at more sites to identify those participants at highest risk of developing severe breathing disorders in adulthood.
'If it were possible to repeat lung function at one time only, the best time would be around age 25, when lung growth peaks.'