Infant respiratory distress syndrome is a condition suffered in newborns due to the immaturity of the lungs which inhibits their ability to take in air due to a lack of surfactants - proteins in the lungs with assist with the transfer of gases by reducing the surface tension of water (similar to a soap or detergent). It is generally only seen in infants who are born prematurely. It is characterized by a rapid breathing rate combined with a rapid heart rate. It usually presents with a bluish tinge to the skin, cyanosis, indicating a lack of oxygen in the arteries. This progresses to long pauses in breathing. It is the leading cause of death during the first month of life in the developed world.
The disease usually progresses over a period of three days, at which point, if the infant survives, the problem will resolve itself as the lungs come to full capacity.
The condition can be prevented in appropriate cases by giving the mother glucocorticoids, which speed the development of the surfactants. The levels of surfactants in a fetus at least 30 weeks of age can be tested through amniocentesis.
In a newborn, a respirator is used to provide positive-pressure oxygen. The infant is also given fluids to stabilize blood sugar, electrolytes and blood pressure. Treatment is often complicated by other conditions.