Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Newborns

(Hyaline Membrane Disease; RDS)


Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) occurs most often in infants who are born too early. RDS can cause breathing difficulty in newborns. If it is not properly treated, RDS can result in complications. This may include pneumonia, respiratory failure, chronic lung problems, and possibly asthma. In severe cases, RDS can lead to convulsions and death.


RDS occurs when infant's lungs have not developed enough. Immature lungs lack a fluid called surfactant. This is a foamy liquid that helps the lungs open wide and take in air. When there is not enough surfactant, the lungs do not open well. This will make it difficult for the infant to breathe.The chance of developing RDS decreases as the fetus grows. Babies born after 36 weeks rarely develop this condition.
Respiratory System of an Infant
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Risk Factors

This condition is more common in males. Factors that may increase your baby's chance of RDS include:
  • Birth before 37 weeks; increased risk and severity of condition with earlier prematurity
  • Mother with insulin dependent diabetes
  • Multiple birth
  • Cesarean section delivery
  • Cold stress
  • Asphyxia
  • Precipitous delivery
  • Previously affected infant
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) during pregnancy


The following symptoms usually start immediately or within a few hours after birth and include:
  • Difficulty breathing, apnea
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Delayed or weak cry
  • Grunting noise with every breath
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Frothing at the lips
  • Blue color around the lips
  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Decreased urine output

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