Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis, Diagnosis

What is Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome as the name suggests is a condition found in premature babies. This is a treatable but serious medical condition in which the lungs of the baby are not completely developed. This causes the baby to have difficulty breathing after birth since the lungs do not function normally.

Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome is also known by the name of hyaline membrane disease. Before birth, the lungs of a child are not required to provide oxygen to the baby as this is done by the blood of the mother. After birth the lungs take over and start providing oxygen to the body.

In cases of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome, since the lungs do not function normally and start to collapse after each breath the body is not able to get sufficient oxygen to function causing symptoms and complications.

What is Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

What is the Etiology of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

The main cause of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome is the lack of a substance called surfactant which is produced by the body of the baby which opens up the lungs when exhaling and close when inhaling. This substance also helps in keeping the alveoli open.

In premature babies, there is a lack of surfactant which after birth causes Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Some studies also suggest a genetic link to the development of this condition. There are also various risk factors for Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome to include:

  • A sibling with the same condition
  • Giving birth to twins or triplets
  • Problems with adequate blood flow to the baby at the time of birth
  • If the mother is a diabetic at the time of pregnancy

What are the Presenting Features of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

The symptoms of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome can be seen immediately after the birth of the baby while in some cases it takes a few hours for the baby to start displaying signs of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Some of the symptoms which can be observed are:

  • Cyanotic skin
  • Flaring of nostrils after each breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Decreased urinary output
  • Loud grunting sound while breathing

How Can Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome Be Diagnosed?

A baby displaying symptoms as mentioned above raises the suspicion for Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome. However, the physician will rule out other conditions like infections which can cause breathing problems. This will be done by doling blood test. Once an infection is ruled out then radiographs of the chest will be taken in the form of an x-ray or a CT scan which will clearly show underdeveloped lungs confirming the diagnosis of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

How Can Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome Be Treated?

A baby showing signs of Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome is immediately admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. The frontline treatments for Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome are:

Surfactant Replacement Therapy: This mode of treatment involves supplementing the baby with surfactant in sufficient amounts such that the lungs develop and the baby is able to breathe without assistance. The surfactant is given through a breathing tube ensuring that it goes directly to the lungs. The child will then be connected to the ventilator to provide breathing assistance. This therapy may be repeated depending on the severity of the condition. The breathing tube will continue to be placed until the time when the child is able to breathe on its own.

Ventilator Assistance: As the lungs of the child are not developed, ventilator assistance to provide the necessary oxygen to the body is used. The volume of the oxygen supplied to the body is decreased depending on the improvements shown by the baby after treatments.

What is the Long Term Outlook or Prognosis for Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome is a serious but treatable condition. Majority of children with this condition outgrow this condition within a span of a few weeks to maximum a couple of months and then lead a normal healthy lives. There is no report of any damage done to the brain due to oxygen insufficiency or any long term deficits for a child with Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

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