Chronic Lung Disease

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What is chronic lung disease?

This long-term respiratory problem affects some premature infants and is also known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

The lungs of premature babies are fragile and are easily damaged. With injury, the tissues become inflamed and break down, causing scarring. This leads to difficulty breathing and increased oxygen needs.

Chronic lung disease can range from mild to severe.

What are the symptoms of chronic lung disease?

Symptoms are:

  • Respiratory distress (rapid breathing, flaring of the nostrils, grunting, chest retractions)
  • Continued need for mechanical ventilation or oxygen after the premature baby reaches 36 weeks of gestation.

How is chronic lung disease diagnosed?

A series of chest X-rays may show changes in the appearance of the lungs.

Blood tests may be ordered to determine if there is enough oxygen is in the baby's blood.

Echocardiography (test that use sound waves to create images of the heart) may be ordered to rule out heart defects and confirm chronic lung disease.

How is chronic lung disease treated?

Newborns with chronic lung disease may need a mechanical ventilator, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), medications and extra oxygen to support their breathing. Babies who develop chronic lung disease often require some assistance with breathing soon after birth. In most cases the condition gets better gradually as the lungs heal and grow.