Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What is Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Respiratory Distress Syndrome is a condition usually found in premature babies who do not have fully developed lungs. This causes the babies to find it difficult to breathe. The problems with breathing can be observed immediately after birth where the baby has flaring of nostrils, increased respiratory rate, and inward movement of the lungs with each breath. The baby also has an extremely weak cry as they cannot take in sufficient oxygen from the air. An audible grunting sound is also heard with each breath in a child with Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The area around the mouth and lips become cyanotic due to lack of oxygen in the blood.

The primary cause for Respiratory Distress Syndrome is lack of enough surfactant in the body of the baby. Before birth, the baby does not need the assistance of lungs to breathe as they get the required oxygen from the blood of the mother. However, after birth the lungs normally start to function and supplies oxygen to the body.

The normal functioning of the lungs is related to a substance produced by newborn babies called surfactant. This substance helps the lungs to expand and contract during breathing. In a premature baby, due to the lungs not being completely formed, there is a lack of surfactant. This is what causes Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

What is the Treatment For Babies with Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

The frontline treatment for Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Babies includes:

Surfactant Replacement Therapy: Since babies with Respiratory Distress Syndrome lack enough surfactant, they are given this through breathing tubes until the time the lungs get developed and the baby starts breathing normally. Giving surfactant through the breathing tube allows the liquid to directly go to the baby’s lungs.

After surfactant is given, the breathing tube is connected to a ventilator to assist in breathing. Surfactant therapy is started immediately after birth when the signs of Respiratory Distress Syndrome are observed. However, this therapy continues until the time the lungs get fully developed and the baby’s breathing improves.

In cases where there is a family history of premature pregnancies and Respiratory Distress Syndrome is suspected, the mother may be given corticosteroids during pregnancy as hey speed up the production of surfactant and can help in preventing Respiratory Distress Syndrome. However, despite these treatments the baby may still require surfactant therapy after birth to support the lungs and help with the breathing.

Breathing Support: This is given to babies with Respiratory Distress Syndrome along with surfactant therapy till the time they are able to breathe on their own and sufficient surfactant is produced by the body. The breathing support is given through breathing tubes, NCPAPs, or ventilator assistance.

Oxygen Therapy: Since a baby with Respiratory Distress Syndrome does not have sufficient oxygen levels, this therapy forms an important part of treatment for Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Oxygen is given through breathing tubes, ventilators, and more preferably NCPAPs. The therapy is important as it ensures that all the vital organs of the body get sufficient oxygen to carry out their normal functions.

Supportive Therapy: This is also an essential part of the treatment for Respiratory Distress Syndrome. An infant with Respiratory Distress Syndrome is admitted to the NICU immediately after birth. In the unit, utmost care is given to the baby to keep the baby warm, comfortable, and prevent any infections.

The baby is normally kept in an incubator and close monitoring of the heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature is done to monitor the progress of the baby. Essential nutrients are given through tubes to promote growth and prevent any malnutrition setting in.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: October 5, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

We'll help you live each day to the healthiest