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Chronic Lung Disease in Infants - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

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:

  • Oxygen therapy to help your baby breathe. Oxygen may be given through a tube in the baby's nose or mouth or through a hood over the baby's head. A machine called a ventilator can give oxygen to babies who can't breathe well on their own.
  • Medicines. For example, your baby may be given a diuretic to keep fluid from building up in the lungs or a bronchodilator to stop airway spasms. Your baby may also get medicine to prevent RSV infection.
  • An incubator to help control body temperature and protect the baby from germs.
  • An apnea monitor to detect any problems with your baby's breathing patterns.
  • Nutrition support. Babies with chronic lung disease burn a lot of calories breathing and fighting infections, so they need extra calories and protein to grow at a normal rate. They may not be able to eat from a bottle or at the breast. Instead, a high-calorie mixture may be put directly into the stomach through a tube in the nose. Or the mixture may be given through a tube in a vein (IV).

Babies who have chronic lung disease may also have other problems that need treatment, such as:

  • Pneumonia or other lung infections.
  • Narrowed or collapsed airways.
  • Bloodstream infection (sepsis).

Babies who have chronic lung disease may need to stay in the hospital from several weeks to several months.

What can you expect when your baby comes home?

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:

  • Give your baby oxygen at home.
  • Make sure your baby gets enough calories and protein.
  • Spot the signs of breathing problems and what to do if your baby has them.

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:

  • Take extra care to avoid the spread of infection. Wash your hands often. And if your child needs day care, choose a small group (with no more than three children) if you can.
  • Schedule regular doctor visits. Your child will need to be checked for problems from chronic lung disease and for growth and development problems.
  • Get your child immunized as recommended.
  • Don't let people smoke around your child.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 12, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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