Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia: Symptoms, Treatment


Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) is a form of chronic lung disease that affects newborns (mostly premature) and infants. It results from damage to the lungs caused by mechanical ventilation (respirator) and long-term use of oxygen. Most infants recover from BPD, but some may have long-term breathing difficulty.

The severity of BPD is defined by the amount of oxygen an infant requires at time of birth and the length of use of supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.


The cause of BPD is related to lifesaving oxygen and mechanical ventilation. While a relatively high amount of inhaled oxygen over several days may be necessary to support life, it may also cause damage to the alveoli. This is sometimes made worse when the ventilator blows air into the lung, overstretching the alveoli.

BPD occurs in very ill infants who received high levels of oxygen for a long period. The condition can also occur in infants who were on a breathing machine (ventilator). BPD is more common in infants born early (prematurely), whose lungs were not fully developed at birth.

The risk factors do not cause but make the development of BPD more likely, including:

  • Congenital heart disease (problem with the heart’s structure and function that is present at birth)
  • Prematurity, usually in infants born before 32 weeks gestationIf your baby is on breathing suppor
  • Severe respiratory or lung infection
  • High concentrations of oxygen
  • Prolonged mechanical ventilation


The most common symptoms of bronchopulmonary dysplasia are:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Labored breathing (drawing in of the lower chest while breathing in)
  • Wheezing (a soft whistling sound as the baby breathes out)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin around the lips and nails due to low oxygen in the blood
  • Poor growth


Important factors in diagnosing BPD are prematurity, infection, mechanical ventilator dependence, and oxygen exposure. Tests that may be done to help diagnose BPD include:

  • Arterial blood gas
  • Chest CT scan
  • Chest X-ray
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Repeated lung infections that may require hospitalization


No available medical treatment can immediately cure bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Treatment is focused on supporting the breathing and oxygen needs of infants with BPD and to help them grow and thrive.

Several types of drug therapies in the following may be used to treat BPD:

  • Diuretics: This class of drugs helps to decrease the amount of fluid in and around the alveoli. They are usually given by mouth 1 to 4 times per day.
  • Bronchodilators: These medications help relax the muscles around the air passages, thus making breathing easier by widening the diameter of the airway openings. They are usually given as a mist by a mask over the infant’s face and using a nebulizer or an inhaler with a spacer.
  • Corticosteroids: These drugs reduce and/or prevent the inflammation within the lungs. They help reduce swelling within the walls of the windpipes and decrease the amount of mucus that is produced. Like bronchodilators, they are also usually given as an aerosol with a mask, either with use of a nebulizer or an inhaler with a spacer.
  • Viral immunization: Children with BPD are at increased risk from respiratory tract infections especially respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Infants with moderate or severe BPD receive monthly injections with a medication that helps prevent the infection during the RSV season.
  • Cardiac medications: A few infants with BPD may require special medications that help relax the muscles around the blood vessels in the lung, allowing the blood to pass more freely reduce the strain on the heart.


You can do following things to help prevent BPD:

  • Prevent premature delivery whenever possible. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, get prenatal care to help keep you and your baby healthy.
  • If your baby is on breathing support, ask the provider how soon your baby can be weaned from the ventilator.
  • Your baby may receive surfactant to help keep the lungs open.

Keywords: Bronchopulmonary dysplasia; BPD.

Related Posts:

What are Bronchodilators?

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Do You Know Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in Children?

What Kind of RSV Testing Will I Do?

RSV: Prevention is Better than Cure

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.