Respiratory distress syndrome
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a breathing disorder resulting form the lungs not producing enough surfactant. This is a coating on the lungs that help keep them open to facilitate breathing. RDS affects mainly premature newborns. About 1 in 10 premature infants develop RDS. The chances of developing this condition are higher the more premature the infant, and the lower the birth weight. Studies have reported 60% of infants born before 29 weeks developing RDS, as well as up to 42% of infants born weighing 1500g or less.
Symptoms of RDS
Babies born with RDS may display shallow and rapid breathing, apnea, grunting and unusual chest movement while breathing, as well as flaring of the nostrils. These symptoms may be caught immediately after birth, or some even several hours later.
Causes of RDS
Prematurity is a significant risk factor for RDS. Babies born prematurely, especially those born before 29 weeks and are of low birth weight, are likely to have underdeveloped lungs that lack adequate surfactant. Without this liquid coating the air sacs inside the lungs, the lungs collapse when the baby exhales, making it very difficult to breathe.
RDS can also develop when a premature infant is reliant on a mechanical ventilator for too long. Often they require oxygen from the ventilator because they are not able to breathe on their own. The high concentration of oxygen and pressure from the ventilator, however, can damage the lungs over time and cause RDS.
Risks of RDS
Infants with severe RDS may develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Other complications include blood infections, bleeding problems, eye problems, kidney failure, and death. This condition, however, can be cured and mortality has been significantly reduced over the years.
Dealing with RDS
Premature infants diagnosed with RDS will be admitted to the NICU and given supplemental surfactant. This is done through a breathing tube, which will then be connected to a NCPAP. This machine will push either air or oxygen (if required) into the baby’s lungs to help them breathe. Antibiotics may be given as well to control infections, if any.
The baby’s breathing, heart rate, temperature and nutrition will be monitored closely as well. Periodically the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood will be monitored using an oximeter. Extra nutrition and calories may be given through a feeding tube.
When your baby is ready to be discharged from the NICU, the doctor may want you to continue monitoring your child’s oxygen levels, as well as continue oxygen therapy at home. During this time, your child is also very vulnerable to infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Ensure that you practice good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly before touching your baby. Avoid contact or wear a mask if you are sick.
With prematurity being the greatest risk factor for RDS, it is best for mothers to take good care of themselves during pregnancy to prevent premature birth.
Medical homecare equipment explained:
- Pulse oximeter
A Pulse oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in the baby’s blood through the skin. A tiny light is taped to the baby’s finger or toe, or in very tiny babies, a foot or hand. A wire connects the light to the monitor where it displays the amount of oxygen in the baby’s red blood cells. Your doctor will advise you on how to interpret the readings, and when to seek medical help.
- Oxygen concentrator
This machine extracts oxygen from the air and supplies it to the baby through a nasal tube. Because this machine requires electricity to run, you may need a backup oxygen tank, just in case the power goes out. Ensure that the tubing remains clean to prevent infections.