Chronic lung disease in an infant means that damaged tissue in the newborn's lungs is causing breathing and health problems. The lungs trap air or collapse, fill with fluid, and produce extra mucus.
Most babies who have chronic lung disease survive. But symptoms may come back and need treatment into early childhood. In time, many children outgrow most of their lung problems.
Chronic lung disease is also known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD.
Chronic lung disease is caused by problems in a baby's lungs. It is most common in premature babies who are born before 26 weeks of gestational age and weigh less than 1 kg (2.2 lb).footnote 1 A premature baby's lungs may not be fully developed. This makes the baby likely to have problems that can lead to chronic lung disease such as:
Other problems that can lead to chronic lung disease include:
A baby with chronic lung disease may have symptoms as soon as 3 days after birth. The most common first symptom is trouble breathing. Your newborn may:
There is no single test to diagnose chronic lung disease. A doctor may first suspect it if your baby has trouble breathing. The diagnosis is confirmed if your baby needs extra oxygen for at least 28 days after birth. Based on your baby's gestational age and how much longer your baby needs extra oxygen, your doctor will know how severe the disease is. Gestational age is the number of weeks since the start of pregnancy.
A doctor may order tests to rule out other causes of breathing trouble or to check for other problems caused by chronic lung disease. For example, your baby might have:
Treatment will help your baby breathe more easily. This reduces the stress on the baby's body while the lungs mature and heal on their own.
Babies with chronic lung disease are usually treated in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which is geared to the needs of premature or ill newborns. Your baby may need one or more of the following treatments, depending on how severe the disease is:
Babies who have chronic lung disease may also have other problems that need treatment, such as:
Babies who have chronic lung disease may need to stay in the hospital from several weeks to several months.
Some babies still need treatment after they go home. Before your baby leaves the hospital, you will be trained to continue your baby's care at home. For example, you may learn how to:
Before you take your baby home, you may want to plan ahead for extra help. Ask the hospital to recommend a home health care agency. These groups provide home visits from nurses and other services.
It will be important to protect your baby's lungs and prevent infections:
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