High-risk and premature infants require prompt attention by a neonatal resuscitation team.
Despite greatly improved RDS treatment in recent years, many controversies still exist. Delivering artificial surfactant directly to the infant's lungs can be enormously important, but how much should be given and who should receive it and when is still under investigation.
Infants will be given warm, moist oxygen. This is critically important, but needs to be given carefully to reduce the side effects associated with too much oxygen.
A breathing machine can be lifesaving, especially for babies with the following:
- High levels of carbon dioxide in the arteries
- Low blood oxygen in the arteries
- Low blood pH (acidity)
It can also be lifesaving for infants with repeated breathing pauses. There are a number of different types of breathing machines available. However, the devices can damage fragile lung tissues, and breathing machines should be avoided or limited when possible.
A treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) that delivers slightly pressurized air through the nose can help keep the airways open and may prevent the need for a breathing machine for many babies. Even with CPAP, oxygen and pressure will be reduced as soon as possible to prevent side effects associated with excessive oxygen or pressure.
A variety of other treatments may be used, including:
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to directly put oxygen in the blood if a breathing machine can't be used
- Inhaled nitric oxide to improve oxygen levels
It is important that all babies with RDS receive excellent supportive care, including the following, which help reduce the infant's oxygen needs:
- Few disturbances
- Gentle handling
- Maintaining ideal body temperature
Infants with RDS also need careful fluid management and close attention to other situations, such as infections, if they develop.