Chronic lung disease is a condition affecting premature babies that means they’re having problems breathing. At the Houston and Sugar Land, Texas, offices of Houston Specialty Clinic, board-certified pediatric pulmonologist Sarat Susarla, MD and Joseph L. Edmonds, M.D., FACS, FAAP provide expert diagnosis and treatment for infants affected by respiratory distress and chronic lung disease. Find out how Dr. Susarla can help you and your baby by calling the location closest to you today.
Chronic lung disease (bronchopulmonary dysplasia) is a term for the breathing problems premature babies can experience. Chronic lung disease causes inflammation in your baby’s lungs. If the tissue breaks down, it causes scarring, which can lead to breathing difficulties.
A premature baby is an infant born before the 37th week of pregnancy — in other words, more than three weeks before they’re due. These babies can experience problems functioning outside the womb because their organs aren’t fully developed or aren’t strong enough.
That means many premature babies need extra oxygen and might have to go onto a breathing machine (ventilator) after they’re born. Chronic lung disease develops if the ventilator or oxygen therapy damages the baby’s lungs.
Premature babies have very delicate bodies, and their lungs are so fragile they can suffer injuries very easily. The air sacs in their lungs are particularly vulnerable. Injuries can occur because the baby doesn’t have enough surfactant in their lungs, which they need to keep the air sacs open.
High levels of oxygen could damage cells in the lungs. Air pressure from the use of an endotracheal (ET) tube in your baby’s windpipe, suctioning fluid from their airways, or the action of the ventilator can all cause chronic lung disease.
Chronic lung disease is more likely to affect your baby if they have a low birth weight (below two pounds) or are born before the 30th week of pregnancy.
Chronic lung disease affects each baby differently, but typical symptoms include:
Your baby might need help breathing for an extended period, even after they reach what would have been 36 weeks’ gestation if they hadn’t been premature. If your baby still needs oxygen when they’re 28 days old, they likely have chronic lung disease.
Chest X-rays might show your baby’s lungs have a sponge-like or bubbly appearance. Blood tests will show if your baby has enough oxygen in their blood, and an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) can detect whether the breathing problems are due to a heart defect rather than chronic lung disease.
Treatment options Dr. Susarla might recommend for chronic lung disease include:
It’s also important to follow a gradual weaning program to get your baby off the ventilator as their lungs develop. Babies with chronic lung disease might also need to have immunizations to reduce the risk of infections like flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
To find out more about chronic lung disease, call Houston Specialty Clinic today.