RDS: Respiratory Distress Syndrome (Patient Information)

(Patient Information)
RDS is one of the most common conditions affecting preterm infants. Other names include: Hyaline membrane disease; Infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS); and Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. The disease occurs when the lungs lack a chemical that keeps the air sacs from collapsing and helps them inflate with air. This chemical, surfactant, normally appears in mature lungs. The lack of this chemical causes the air sacs to collapse and prevents the baby from breathing properly. Symptoms usually appear shortly after birth and slowly become more severe. Infants with RDS will usually get worse before they get better. RDS may persist or worsen for 2 to 4 days after birth with improvement thereafter. Common risk factors are prematurity, diabetes in the mother, infection, and delivery complications at birth.

Common Symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Unusual breathing movement -- drawing back of the chest muscles with breathing (retractions)
  • Grunting sounds while breathing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Apnea or periods without breathing
  • Bluish color of skin, lips, and inside the mouth
  • Arms or legs puffy or swollen

Common exams or tests:

  • "Blood Gas" to determine oxygenation status and acid/base balance
  • "Chest X-Ray"
  • "Blood cultures" and a
  • "Septic Work-up" are usually done to rule out infection
Oxygen therapy is usually needed. Those with severe symptoms need a breathing machine (ventilator; vent) to deliver oxygen as well as pressure, which keeps the lungs inflated. Oxygen and pressure will be reduced as soon as possible to prevent side effects associated with too much oxygen or pressure. Artificial lung surfactant is sometimes indicated and delivered through a tube placed into their lungs. Infants will also require and "IV," since feedings will most likely be delayed in infants with RDS.