infant respiratory distress syndrome
IRDS is caused by a lack, in the immature lung, of a surfactant agent; the substance, a mixture of lipids and proteins, contributes to the elasticity of lung tissue and stabilizes air passages so that the lung remains partly aerated after each exhalation. Intensive care, including supplemental oxygen and, in the case of severe symptoms, aid in breathing from a ventilator, can often bring infants through the first five or six days, after which most recover completely. An artificial surfactant may be introduced into the lungs if a newborn is at high risk for IRDS. If labor begins prematurely and cannot be halted and tests show that the fetus's lungs are immature, steroids administered to the mother a few days prior to labor may promote lung maturation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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