Neonatal respiratory diseases are common in premature newborns born before 32 weeks of pregnancy, because their lungs are not able to make enough surfactant, a foamy substance that keeps the lung fully expanded.
Neonatal respiratory diseases include:
In addition to premature birth, risk factors for neonatal respiratory diseases include low or high birth weight for gestational age; infections, either congenital or acquired during passage through the birth canal; complications during pregnancy or birth; congenital lung or heart defects; and having a mutation in the gene that controls surfactant production.
To prevent or lower the chance of neonatal respiratory disease caused by premature birth, your doctor may prescribe medicines called corticosteroids to help speed up your baby’s lung development if you show signs of going into labor early.
After birth, your doctor will check your baby for signs and symptoms of respiratory diseases, such as very slow or irregular breathing, rapid breathing, noisy or gurgled breathing, a weak cry, a rapid heart rate, grunting, flaring of the nostrils with each breath, a bluish tone to your baby’s skin and lips, or a pulling inward of the muscles between the ribs when breathing.
Your newborn’s doctor may diagnose a respiratory disease based on a physical examination, levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood measured by a skin sensor, or a chest X-ray. An echocardiogram may be performed to check for a possible heart problem that may be causing your baby’s symptoms.
If your newborn has a respiratory disease, treatment may include suction of secretions in the mouth and throat, oxygen therapy, or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device applied to the nose or mouth. Your baby may also be intubated, which involves placing a small tube in the airway that is attached to ventilator support. For severe respiratory disease, your baby may need a heart-lung machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Depending on the neonatal respiratory disease, other treatments may include surfactant replacement therapy and nitric oxide to the lungs to improve blood flow there, caffeine to regulate breathing, or antibiotics or other medicine to treat an infection.
Neonatal respiratory diseases could lead to low levels of oxygen to the body, affecting vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidney. They can also lead to long-term lung damage, frequent lung infections, and developmental delays. With careful treatment, the complications of neonatal respiratory diseases may go away over time. Learn more about research studies to improve the quality of life for newborns who have respiratory diseases in Research for Your Health.
Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for newborns who have respiratory diseases. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing lung disease scientific discovery.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing neonatal respiratory diseases research, in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about neonatal respiratory diseases.
We lead or sponsor many studies on neonatal respiratory diseases. See if you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Neonatal Respiratory Diseases Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.