​Respiratory Distress Syndrome


Respiratory distress syndrome (or RDS) is a breathing disorder in new-born babies, which most commonly affects premature babies. The lungs of premature babies aren’t fully developed and unable to produce enough surfactant, which is a liquid that is present inside the lungs and helps to keep the lungs open. 

RDS causes the lungs and other organs to collapse when there isn’t enough oxygen to support the baby's organs. This may lead to brain damage if it becomes more severe. The less the lungs are developed, the higher are your baby’s chance of developing RDS.

Factors that contribute to RDS include:

  • A sibling with the same disease

  • Diabetic mother

  • Caesarean delivery

  • Multiple pregnancy (that is twins, triplets etc.)

Signs of RDS appear at or very soon after birth. Once prematurely born infants reach their full term age and still have breathing problems, they diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (or BPD), which is another respiratory disease in new-borns.

Symptoms of RDS appear very shortly after birth, from a few minutes to a few hours. The most common ones include:

  • A blue tinge in your baby’s skin

  • Apnea, which is a pause in your baby’s breathing

  • Very little quantities of urine discharged

  • Rapid or shallow breathing

  • Flaring nostrils

  • Grunting or wheezing sounds while breathing

  • Unusual breathing or other breathing difficulties

If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms at birth, he or she will be under the care of our expert neonatologists and nurses working with the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital. You can be assured of receiving multidisciplinary care under one roof at the only internationally accredited hospital in Pakistan.

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor working with the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital may use the following tests to detect RDS:

  • Blood gas analysis: An ABG (Arterial Blood Gas) test measures the acidity (pH) and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood from an artery. This test is used to check how well your lungs are able to move oxygen into the blood and remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

  • Chest x-ray: This is an imaging technique used to show a picture of your baby’s insides to detect the symptoms of RDS.

  • Blood tests: These can be used to rule out infection as a cause of breathing problems.

Your baby’s neonatologist working with the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital can treat for RDS in a number of ways.

One method includes giving warm, moist oxygen to the baby. This treatment needs to be monitored carefully to avoid any harmful side effects.

In some cases it may be necessary to put your baby on a breathing machine, but this must be carefully monitored as breathing machines can damage the lung tissue in some cases.

A treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may also be used to help keep the airways open.

Other requirements for treating babies with RDS include:

  • Handling the baby very  gently

  • Keeping your baby at an ideal body temperature

  • Carefully managing intake of fluids and nutrition

  • Treating infections causing internal problems

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.


The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.