Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is respiratory distress syndrome?

Respiratory distress syndrome, also known as RDS, is a common condition affecting newborns. However, it's important to know that this condition is treatable, and many babies fully recover from it.

RDS is caused by a lack of surfactant, a substance present in the lungs that helps keep them open and allows easy breathing. If your baby is diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome, they may experience rapid breathing or struggle to breathe and may require extra support to help them breathe comfortably. With the right treatment, your baby can make a full recovery and go on to lead a healthy and happy life.

Symptoms of respiratory distress syndrome

If your baby has respiratory distress syndrome, there are some common signs you should look out for.

  • Shortness of breath: Your baby may experience shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which can signify respiratory distress.
  • Hard to catch breath: Your baby may also feel chest tightness or a feeling of not being able to catch her breath.
  • Experiencing retractions: You may notice a tugging of the rib muscles, which is a major symptom of respiratory distress.
  • Strange high-pitched breathing sound: You may notice that your baby is making a high-pitched sound while breathing.
  • Changes in the body: Your baby can experience a bluish colour to their skin, lips, and nails, which shows low oxygen levels.

Causes of Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Different things can cause respiratory distress syndrome, but they are often linked to

  • premature birth.
  • lung development issues.
  • respiratory infections. 

While it can be scary and overwhelming, know that you and your baby are in good hands, with the medical team working to provide the best care possible.

When should I see a doctor?

Suppose you notice any signs of respiratory distress syndrome in your baby, such as rapid breathing, flaring nostrils, or difficulty breathing. In that case, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Your baby's doctor will be able to diagnose the issue and provide the best treatment plan to help your little one feel better.

Treatment/Remedies for Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome is often a highly concerning sign for parents. However, it's important to know that there are effective treatments available. Some common treatments that can help your baby with respiratory distress syndrome include:

  • oxygen therapy
  • mechanical ventilation 
  • medications to relax the muscles of the airway, making breathing easier

Depending on the severity of your baby's symptoms, you may need to keep them in the hospital to receive treatment. With the right care and support provided at the earliest, your baby can get back to normal life. Contact your doctor immediately if you find signs of RDS in your baby.


While RDS is a critical disorder affecting premature newborn babies, it is completely treatable and also curable if provided the right medical attention at the right time. You should immediately draw your doctor's attention if you identify signs of RDS like difficulty or rapid breathing, a bluish-grey skin tint, or chest retractions when breathing.

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

1. How can I confirm if the treatment is working?

When the child begins to breathe normally or comfortably, requires less oxygen support or the ventilator support machine can be used on low settings, this may indicate that the treatment is working.

2. How is the oxygen therapy given in RDS?

The nasal therapy can be given to the baby through a nasal cannula, a CPAP machine, or a ventilator, which is used in severe cases.

3. What confirms respiratory distress syndrome in a baby?

To confirm respiratory distress syndrome in your baby, a few tests may help. An X-ray of the baby's chest can show whether the lungs are filled with fluid and not expanding properly, and a blood gas test can measure low oxygen levels in your baby's blood.

4. What kinds of newborns are at the highest risk for respiratory distress?

If your child was born before 37 to 39 weeks, they are at a higher risk for RDS. The earlier the baby was born, the greater the chances of developing RDS.

5. How is RDS treated with the IV catheter method?

A very tiny, narrow tube (called a catheter) is inserted into the blood vessels present in the child's umbilical cord. This catheter is used to transfer IV fluids, medicines, and nutrition to the child.

Book an Appointment




Pregnancy Calculator