What is Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Owing to certain risk factors such as diabetes or other such health problems in pregnant women, a premature delivery of the baby can result in immature development of the lungs, a complication called

infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS)

or neonatal/newborn respiratory distress syndrome. Other risk factors include multiple pregnancy, genetics, certain forms of asphyxia, low birth weight, and Cesarean section can also contribute to respiratory problems in the newborn baby. Here is more about

infant respiratory distress syndrome


What is IRDS?

Respiratory distress syndrome in infants has been and still is a major concern of mortality after the birth of the child. During times when the delivery is premature, the respiratory system of the infant will still be underdeveloped. Here is how this can lead to respiratory distress in the baby.

  • A complex material called surfactant, which is composed of lipids, proteins, and glycoproteins, is needed during the development of respiratory system. The infants, who are suffering from respiratory distress, are usually deficient in surfactant. It is also an essential substance which helps the lungs retain their structure during inhalation and exhalation.
  • As the air-spaces in the lungs collapse, there will be obstruction in air passage. Also, in these areas, a thin waxy layer, called hyaline membrane, is developed decreasing and even completely preventing gas exchange between blood and lungs.
  • Due to these two reasons, there will be a significant decrease in the amount of oxygen and increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. If untreated, this will result in other complications such as chronic lung problems and damage to the brain.

What are the symptoms of IRDS?

The symptoms of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome are most severe during two to three days in the baby. The situation usually becomes stable by the end of the third day, during which the baby might need artificial means of fluid management in the body. Here are some of the symptoms that manifest during these three days.

  • Grunting and flaring nostrils during exhalation.
  • The baby will also experience pauses in breath (apnea) because of the immature respiratory system.
  • As there is no proper gas exchange taking place between blood and lungs, the carbon dioxide gets accumulated in the blood. This causes the blood to become deep red, which appears blue through the skin (cyanosis).
  • Hypoxia, or lack of enough oxygen in the blood is also another symptom.
  • There will also be a decrease in the lung volume because of collapses in alveoli. This can be seen in an x-ray.
  • The chest muscles tend to retract or draw back while breathing. There will also be shortness of breath, rapid and shallow breathing.

How can it be prevented?

With proper medical intervention and check ups, respiratory distress syndrome in infants can be prevented. Taking glucocorticoids if there is a chance of premature delivery, can significantly improve the development of lungs by speeding up the production of surfactant. Other precautions such as treating diabetes (if the mother is suffering form it), or taking care of the mother’s health will also help prevent this condition.

What are the treatments available for IRDS?

  • Artificially administering oxygen, necessary fluids, nutrients, and salts to keep the blood pressure at normal will help stabilize the situation.
  • Surfactant that is artificially synthesized or extracted from other compatible animals, can also be used to help the growth of respiratory system.
  • When the situation of becomes too severe, a breathing tube is inserted through the baby’s throat and into the lungs to aid breathing.

Taking necessary precautions and making sure the mother stays healthy will prevent any complications in the baby’s health during and after birth.

Infant respiratory distress syndrome

is very much avoidable with proper health care and checkups during pregnancy.

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