If a child is born before 32 weeks there is a good chance that they will have some degree of breathing problems. At 32 week the lungs finish fully developing, so if a child is born before the 32 week mark doctors and nurses will be more observant and thorough when listening to the respiratory system and giving the child its first “check-up”.
Some problems are due to the fact that the child’s lungs are not properly functioning. If that is the case the child will be place on oxygen, either by oxygen mask or ventilation/intubation. In some cases a child just need a little extra help until the lungs are strong enough to pump oxygen throughout the body on its own. But in other cases there can be a much more significant problem.
One of the common causes for breathing/lung issues is the lack of surfactant in the lungs leading to respiratory distress syndrome. Surfactant is a natural substance the body produces that coats and lines the lungs to allow them to expand and contract properly. If a child lacks this substance within the lungs they may appear blue from the lack of oxygen that they are receiving. A doctor is able to diagnose this by blood oxygen levels and chest x-rays. Once diagnosed doctors can properly treat the child so that no damage is done to the child’s overall health. The child will be put on oxygen, most likely through a ventilator to properly oxygenate the body. Doctors may also be able to give a treatment in which surfactant is give thought the windpipe to provide the surfactants that is missing. If left untreated it can cause brain damage or even death.
Some pre-mature babies can also develop what is called an apnea. An apnea is when someone momentarily stops breathing. Apneas can be cause by underdevelopment of the CNS (central nervous system) which includes the brain and spinal cord. The brain and spinal cord are responsible for controlling breathing and lung function. If a child is born before the CNS has fully developed (which happens around week 25) and the CNS is communicating with all major organ, such as the lungs, breathing complications such as apneas may occur. If an infant or premature baby stops breathing for 15-25 seconds in their sleep several times. This shouldn’t be confused with periodic breathing in which a child stops breathing for a few (less than 10) second, followed by sudden and rapid breaths.
A pre-mature babies may also be born with or develop a breathing condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia, more commonly known as chronic lung disease. Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is the abnormal development of the lung tissue, and is characterizes by inflammation and scaring of the lungs. It is most common for pre-mature babies born before week 32 to develop chronic lung disease, this is because the lungs are not fully developed. Most children will recover fully from BPD, very few have life long effects. Bronchopulmonary dysplasia requires serious intensive medical care. There is no treatment that can be give to cure BPD, doctors will provide treatment to help with symptoms and assist the child in recovering. Children will naturally overcome BPD overtime as the lungs develop more. In most cases the child will be put on ventilation, either jet ventilation or intubation, and give medication such as albuterol or other bronchodilators and diuretics, they may also receive small doses of steroids to help strengthen the lungs.
These are some of the most common complications when it comes to breathing of a pre-mature child. But there are many more that may arise. If a child presents breathing problems at the time of birth or short after a team of doctors will diagnose and treat to give the child the best chance of life.