RDS stands for "respiratory distress syndrome." It is the most common lung disease in premature infants and it occurs because the baby’s lungs are not fully developed. The more premature the infant, the more likely it is for the baby to have RDS.
RDS is caused by not having enough surfactant in the lungs. Surfactant is normally produced by healthy lungs. It spreads like a thin film over the tiny air sacs in the lungs and helps to keep the air sacs open (Picture 1). The air sacs must be open for proper breathing to allow oxygen to enter the blood from the lungs and carbon dioxide to be released from the blood into the lungs.
Babies who have RDS may show these signs:
The doctor will order chest X-rays to be done. The diagnosis of RDS is made after studying the X-rays and examining the baby.
Oxygen – Babies with RDS need extra oxygen to stay pink. It may be given in several ways:
Surfactant – Surfactant can be given into the baby’s lungs to replace what your infant does not have. This is given directly down the breathing tube that was placed in the windpipe.
Tubing into a blood vessel - A very small tube called a catheter is placed into one or two of the blood vessels in the umbilical cord. The tube may be a UAC (umbilical arterial catheter) or a UVC (umbilical venous catheter). This is done to give the infant IV fluids, nutrition and medicines. It is also be used to take blood samples from the infant to see how well the lungs are working.
The road to recovery is different for each infant. Some babies need more oxygen than others. Some require several doses of surfactant. It’s important to remember RDS sometimes gets worse before it gets better.
Recovery may be slower if the infant:
Here are some signs that your baby is getting better:
Children who have had RDS as infants may:
We know this is a difficult time for you and your family. If you have any questions about your baby’s care and treatment, please be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.
HH-I-267 5/11 Copyright 2011, Nationwide Children's Hospital