Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a common, life-threatening condition of premature infants in which their lungs are too immature to support normal breathing. It is most commonly caused by a lack of surfactant, a natural lubricant in the lungs that is produced mainly after 34 weeks of gestation. If the lungs are too immature to make enough surfactant, a premature infant can struggle to expand their lungs and breath adequately. Poor lung development, infection, birth defects, and other underlying conditions can also contribute to RDS.

Signs & Symptoms of RDS:

  • Grunting
  • Breathlessness
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis (blue color of skin)
  • Retractions (pulling in of ribs)

Diagnosis & Treatment:

RDS is typically diagnosed with a physical exam and pulses oximetry or chest X-ray. Oxygen therapy is the most common form of treatment and is usually started right away. Other treatments such as nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), mechanical ventilation, diuretics, and surfactant therapy may also be used. For more severe cases, additional treatments such as broad-spectrum antibiotics, antifungals, and/or steroids may be necessary.

Prevention & Prognosis:

Prevention of RDS requires good prenatal care and early diagnosis of preterm labor. It is important for mothers to get regular medical assessments throughout their pregnancy for early diagnosis and treatment of any medical issue that may lead to preterm labor. Prognosis of RDS depends on the severity and duration of the syndrome. However, the earlier the infant is diagnosed and receives appropriate treatment, the better their prognosis will be.