Preemie Complications

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

What is respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)? Although there are many causes of breathing difficulties in premature infants, the most common one is RDS. RDS occurs when the infant's immature lungs don't produce enough of an important substance called surfactant. A healthy amount of surfactant spreads like a film over the tiny air sacs of the lungs, allowing them to stay open. Open air sacs are essential for oxygen to enter the blood from the lungs and for carbon dioxide to be released from the blood into the lungs for exhalation.

Is RDS dangerous? Some possible long-term problems may arise from RDS. If the case is severe or if there have been complications, possible problems may include:

  • Increased severity of colds or other respiratory infections
  • Sensitivity to lung irritants such as smoke and pollution
  • Infection of the bloodstream
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Lung scarring
  • Greater likelihood of wheezing or other asthma-like problems

How is RDS treated? A baby with RDS will need extra oxygen. The added oxygen might be given by placing a plastic hood over the baby's head or through little tubes in the nostrils. If the RDS is moderate or severe, your baby may need to have a breathing tube inserted into her wind pipe. She may also be given an artificial form of surfactant, replacing the substance that her lungs lack.

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