Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a condition that affects newborn babies and premature infants. It happens when the lungs are not fully developed and can't make enough surfactant (surfactant is a substance produced in the lungs that helps to reduce surface tension and prevent the collapse of alveoli during breathing), which helps keep the air sacs in the lungs open. Without enough surfactant, the air sacs collapse, making it hard for the baby to breathe. RDS is also known as "hyaline membrane disease".

What are the signs and symptoms of Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Depending on how bad the respiratory distress syndrome is, the symptoms can be different. Common symptoms of RDS in premature babies include:

  • Rapid or laboured breathing
  • Grunting sounds during breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • A bluish tint to the skin or lips (cyanosis)
  • Chest retractions (skin being pulled in around the ribs)
  • Fatigue or lethargy

RDS can also happen to adults, especially if they have damaged lungs from something like pneumonia, sepsis, or a lung injury. Symptoms in adults may include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A bluish tint to the skin or lips (cyanosis)
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Confusion or dizziness

What causes respiratory distress syndrome?

Lack of surfactant in premature babies' lungs is the root cause of respiratory distress syndrome. Adults can develop RDS due to lung damage from pneumonia, sepsis, or injury, as well as smoking, toxins, or weakened immunity.

How is RDS diagnosed?

Most of the time, RDS is diagnosed in premature babies soon after they are born by looking at their symptoms and giving them a physical exam. In adults, the diagnosis may require chest X-rays, blood tests, and lung function tests. Your healthcare provider will work with you to decide the best treatment plan for your condition.

When should you see a doctor?

If you or someone you care about has respiratory distress syndrome symptoms like shortness of breath or fast breathing, it is very important to get medical help right away. This can help in obtaining timely treatment and managing the condition effectively.

What are the treatment options for RDS?

The goal of treating respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is to make it easier for the patient to breathe and keep problems from happening. Treatment for premature babies with RDS may include:

  • Surfactant replacement therapy: a natural or synthetic surfactant can be given to help open up the air sacs in the lungs.
  • Respiratory support: oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilation can be used to help the baby breathe.
  • Medications: corticosteroids may be used to reduce inflammation and promote surfactant production.

For adults with RDS, treatment may include:

  • Oxygen therapy: supplemental oxygen can help improve breathing and increase oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Mechanical ventilation: a machine can help support breathing until the lungs recover.
  • Medications: Antibiotics may be used to treat infections that contribute to RDS.

It's important to know that respiratory distress syndrome can be a serious illness that needs medical help right away. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of RDS, seek medical help right away.


Respiratory distress syndrome is a serious medical problem that needs to be diagnosed and treated quickly to avoid complications that could be life-threatening. People and their loved ones can take steps to deal with the condition and improve their overall quality of life if they know what causes it, what its symptoms are, and how it can be treated. For the best possible outcome, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you have any signs of respiratory distress syndrome.

Request an appointment at Apollo Cradle, Bengaluru - Brookefield. Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

1. Can adults develop respiratory distress syndrome?

Yes, respiratory distress syndrome can occur in adults who have lung damage or disease.

2. Is respiratory distress syndrome contagious?

No, respiratory distress syndrome is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

3. Can respiratory distress syndrome be prevented?

Giving the mother corticosteroid drugs before giving birth can help prevent respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies. In adults, avoiding lung damage and disease can help reduce the risk.

4. Can respiratory distress syndrome be fatal?

In severe cases, respiratory distress syndrome can be fatal, especially if not treated promptly.

5. Does respiratory distress syndrome always require hospitalization?

Most cases of respiratory distress syndrome need to be treated in a hospital, but mild cases can be treated at home.

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