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Chronic Lung Disease in Infants - Treatment Overview

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Your baby may use an apnea monitor if he or she needs only oxygen therapy and does not need a ventilator. The monitor helps you and other caregivers detect any problems with your baby's breathing patterns.

Your newborn will need a ventilator if he or she is diagnosed with severe chronic lung disease. The use of a ventilator may continue for a few days to a few months. For some children, it is needed for as long as 2 years.

In addition to oxygen therapy or ventilators, your baby may need:

  • An incubator to help regulate his or her body temperature.
  • Medicines to control the symptoms of chronic lung disease.
    • Diuretics help excess fluid in your baby's body to be eliminated through the urine. This prevents fluid from building up inside the lungs and allows the baby's heart and lungs to function more easily. Electrolyte solutions may be given to replace body chemicals (electrolytes) that are lost as a side effect of the diuretic.
    • Bronchodilators may be used to stop spasms or closing of the airways, which helps to release some of the trapped air and allows your baby to breathe more easily. The baby inhales this medicine through a nebulizer.
    • Corticosteroids may decrease swelling and inflamed lung tissue so that your newborn can breathe without a ventilator or extra oxygen. This medicine can have serious side effects, so doctors must weigh the risks and benefits when they decide whether to give this medicine to babies.2, 3
  • Medicine to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections. Babies who have chronic lung disease are at increased risk for developing RSV.
  • Nutritional support. These babies usually need extra calories and protein to grow at a normal rate, because they burn extra calories breathing and fighting frequent infections. Extra nutrients are also important to help heal damaged lung tissue. Getting needed nutrition can be a challenge for babies who have chronic lung disease, because they may not be able to eat from a bottle or at the breast. Sometimes a baby is fed a high-calorie mixture of nutrients (fat, protein, and sugars) directly into the stomach through a nasogastric tube. Or this mixture of nutrients is given through a vein (IV) using TPN. These methods may be used alone or as a supplement to bottle feeding or breast-feeding. Vitamin supplements are also usually given.

Ongoing treatment

You may be able to continue treatment for your baby at home, even if he or she needs oxygen therapy. Treating your baby at home helps you bond with the baby and can help you to be more relaxed and comfortable. Leaving the hospital can also minimize your medical care expenses.

Before you take your newborn home, you will need to learn how to:

  • Care for your infant with chronic lung disease. You will need to know how to monitor your baby's health and meet his or her increased nutritional needs, perform CPR, give medicines, and set up a daily routine.
  • Use a nasal cannula. This is a flexible plastic tube that has a set of two prongs that can be placed in the nostrils to deliver oxygen to the body. You must know how to care for it as well as how to keep your baby comfortable.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 27, 2011
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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