What are the causes and remedies for respiratory distress in neonates?

Symptom Database

Respiratory distress in neonates, also known as neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, is a condition that affects newborns and can be a cause of concern for parents and healthcare professionals. It is characterized by difficulty in breathing and can be a result of various underlying causes. In this article, we will explore the causes and remedies for respiratory distress in neonates, along with the symptoms and available respiratory support options.

Causes of Respiratory Distress in Neonates

There are several factors that can contribute to respiratory distress in newborns. Some of the common causes include:

  • Immature lungs: Neonates who are born prematurely often have underdeveloped lungs, which can lead to respiratory distress.
  • Respiratory infections: Infections such as pneumonia or sepsis can affect the respiratory system of newborns and cause breathing difficulties.
  • Meconium aspiration: When a baby passes stool (meconium) before birth and inhales it into the lungs, it can lead to respiratory distress.
  • Birth trauma: Difficult or traumatic deliveries can result in respiratory distress in newborns.
  • Genetic factors: Certain genetic conditions can affect the respiratory system and contribute to respiratory distress in neonates.

Symptoms of Respiratory Distress in Neonates

Recognizing the symptoms of respiratory distress in newborns is crucial for early intervention and appropriate medical care. Some common symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing or tachypnea
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Grunting sounds while breathing
  • Cyanosis or bluish discoloration of the skin
  • Retractions, where the skin between the ribs or above the collarbone sinks in during breathing

Respiratory Support for Neonatal Respiratory Distress

When a newborn is diagnosed with respiratory distress, prompt medical intervention is necessary. Here are some respiratory support options that healthcare professionals may consider:

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy involves providing supplemental oxygen to the newborn to improve oxygen levels in the blood. This can be done through various methods, such as nasal cannula, oxygen hood, or mechanical ventilation.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

CPAP is a non-invasive method of respiratory support that delivers a continuous flow of air or oxygen to the baby’s lungs. It helps keep the airways open and improves breathing.

Surfactant Replacement Therapy

In cases where respiratory distress is caused by a lack of surfactant, a substance that helps keep the lungs inflated, surfactant replacement therapy may be administered. This involves introducing artificial surfactant into the baby’s lungs to improve lung function.

Remedies for Respiratory Distress in Neonates

While medical interventions are crucial for managing respiratory distress in neonates, there are also some remedies that can be helpful:


Proper positioning of the baby can aid in breathing and alleviate respiratory distress. Placing the baby on their side or stomach with the head slightly elevated can help open up the airways.

Humidified Environment

Providing a humidified environment can help prevent the drying of the baby’s airways, making breathing easier. This can be achieved by using a humidifier or keeping a bowl of water near the baby’s crib.

Monitoring and Supportive Care

Regular monitoring of the baby’s vital signs, such as heart rate and oxygen saturation, is essential. Additionally, providing supportive care, such as maintaining a warm and quiet environment, can help reduce stress and improve respiratory function.


Respiratory distress in neonates is a condition that requires prompt medical attention. Understanding the causes and recognizing the symptoms is crucial for early intervention. With appropriate respiratory support and remedies, the majority of newborns with respiratory distress can recover and thrive. If you notice any signs of respiratory distress in your newborn, it is important to seek medical advice immediately to ensure the best possible care for your baby.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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