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What Causes Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia?

Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) develops as a result of an infant's lungs becoming irritated or inflamed.

The lungs of premature infants are fragile and often aren't fully developed. They can easily be irritated or injured within hours or days of birth. Many factors can damage premature infants' lungs.


Newborns who have breathing problems or can't breathe on their own may need ventilator support. Ventilators are machines that use pressure to blow air into the airways and lungs.

Although ventilator support can help premature infants survive, the machine's pressure might irritate and harm the babies' lungs. For this reason, doctors only recommend ventilator support when necessary.

High Levels of Oxygen

Newborns who have breathing problems might need oxygen therapy (oxygen given through nasal prongs, a mask, or a breathing tube). This treatment helps the infants' organs get enough oxygen to work well.

However, high levels of oxygen can inflame the lining of the lungs and injure the airways. Also, high levels of oxygen can slow lung development in premature infants.


Infections can inflame the lungs. As a result, the airways narrow, which makes it harder for premature infants to breathe. Lung infections also increase the babies' need for extra oxygen and breathing support.


Studies show that heredity may play a role in causing BPD. More studies are needed to confirm this finding.

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Last Updated: January 12, 2012