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Treating Respiratory Distress in Infants
In premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), the alveoli -- the tiny air sacs in the lungs -- are compromised. Infants who are born prematurely and experience respiratory distress are not able to produce sufficient amounts of surfactant, which is a liquid that is secreted by the alveoli and coats the inside of the lungs. Without enough surfactant, the alveoli collapse and cannot re-open. This prevents the infant from breathing properly, as oxygen is not able to enter the small blood vessels that surround the alveoli.
In a normal pregnancy, surfactant is produced starting around 34 weeks of gestation. The surfactant keeps the surface tension inside the alveoli low so that the sacs can expand at birth, and the infant can breathe normally. However, for infants who are born prematurely, there is sometimes an insufficient amount of surfactant produced, and the alveoli collapse. This causes great respiratory distress in the infant, making it difficult to breathe without assistance. Sometimes a layer of tissue called a hyaline membrane forms in the air sacs, which makes it even harder for oxygen to reach the blood vessels around the alveoli. For this reason, sometimes RDS in newborn infants in known as hyaline membrane disease.
RDS may be diagnosed immediately after birth. Symptoms of infant respiratory distress include labored, rapid breathing; flared nostrils; and grunting between breaths. Samples of amniotic fluid, as well as chest X-rays, can confirm respiratory distress or lack of surfactant in infants. Treatment begins at birth – often in the delivery room. If an infant does not develop RDS until a few hours after birth, the treatments start as soon as the respiratory distress is recognized. Babies with RDS require care in a specialized intensive care unit for newborns, typically called the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Physicians and nurses with specialized neonatal training and experience care for severely ill newborn infants with respiratory distress.
In severe cases of respiratory distress, treatment typically includes medication that increases the amount of surfactant in the newborn's lungs, which helps to prevent the alveoli from collapsing. These drugs can be dripped into the lungs through an endotracheal tube that is inserted into the infant's windpipe, or trachea. If the medication is successful, the alveoli will begin to secrete surfactant on their own, and the infant will be able to breathe easier in the following days or weeks. Infants with respiratory distress should be monitored in a highly supervised clinical setting by neonatal specialists who are experts in the care of premature infants.
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1576 Sweet Home Rd.
Amherst, NY 14228
Tel: (716) 636-9096
Toll-free: (877) 274-4469
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm Eastern, excluding holidays
7.7.2011 // ad #116310
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