Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Respiratory distress syndrome is a serious medical condition among premature newborns. The condition occurs immediately after the infant is born. It is a breathing disorder in which the tiny air sacs of the lungs do not inflate or open due to lack or absence of surfactant. Surfactant is liquid that coats the inner lining of air sacs. It helps the lungs to open and facilitate easy breathing once the infant is born.

Premature delivery, mother suffering from diabetes, cesarean section before due date, infection in mother, are some of the risk factors linked with respiratory distress syndrome.

With advancement of medical science and improvement in technology, nowadays complication such as brain damage as well as mortality rate has considerably decreased in infants having respiratory distress syndrome.

What Causes Respiratory Distress Syndrome In Infants?

Respiratory distress syndrome is a serious breathing disorder that occurs in infants born prematurely. The main reason for it to occur is lack of surfactant inside the lungs of the infant. Surfactant is a type of liquid that keeps open the air sacs in the lungs when the infant is born. It prevents collapse lung alveoli (air sacs) when the fetus is inside the womb.

With insufficient surfactant the lungs will collapse making it difficult for the premature infant to breathe after birth. He may not get enough oxygen due to difficulty in breathing. As a result the brain and other organs may be damaged sometimes causing death. Risk factors include:

  • Premature delivery. Especially babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Mother suffering from diabetes.
  • Mother having serious infection during third trimester.
  • Cesarean section before full term.
  • Excessive blood loss at the time of delivery.

Symptoms Of Respiratory Distress Syndrome

The signs and symptoms of respiratory distress syndrome occur soon after birth within few minutes or hours. Infant’s nostrils are flared up with shallow breathing. He breathes rapidly. There is abnormal grunting sound that you can hear. The chest muscles are strained as infant tries hard to breathe. The chest and ribs are pulled inwards as the child tries to breathe.

Paused breathing for few seconds is suggestive of something wrong with the lungs. Due to distress in breathing the blood lacks proper oxygen saturation. This results in blue discoloration of skin and lips. In medical term the condition is called cyanosis. Due to insufficient oxygen the brain may get damaged sometimes leading to death of the child.

Diagnosis is made immediately on observing the symptoms, oxygen saturation in blood and X-ray showing signs of lung collapse.

Treatment Of Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Treatment of respiratory distress syndrome is instantaneous after the child is born. It usually begins in delivery room itself. The infant is then shifted to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where the child is monitored and treated round the clock.

In the NICU breathing is aided with the help of ventilator or positive air pressure. Surfactant is passed through the breathing tube. It directly enters into the lungs. It helps the baby to breathe better. Surfactant also helps to reduces risk of lung complications such as pneumothorax. Oxygen is also supplied through the tube or the ventilator.