Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

  • As the name says- Acute (sudden onset), Respiratory (breathing) distress (difficulty)
  • It is a life-threatening medical condition where the lungs can’t provide enough oxygen for the rest of the body.
  • It generally occurs secondary to a pre-existing condition



  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breathing causing distress
  • Drowsy, tired
  • Unconsciousness, change in colour



ARDS generally occurs when lungs get filled with fluid. This fluid can be from

  • Aspiration (especially children with special needs who aspirate during vomit)
  • Heart condition – (in heart failure, the blood pressure in lung circulation increases and fluid leaks into lung)
  • Kidney problems( decreased urine output leads to water retention)
  • Pneumonia/ Sepsis
  • Chest injury
  • Drowning



It’s a clinical diagnosis, assisted with scans and blood tests

  • Examination-  fast breathing, noisy breathing, difficulty breathing, drowsy, collapse
  • Blood tests to look for infections, oxygen levels
  • Chest x-ray/ CT scan of lungs – to look for lung features, heart failure signs



  • Calm the patient
  • Put him in recovery position (on his side- if comfortable)
  • Call for help (ambulance immediately)
  • Don’t give anything by mouth



When in severe distress, the function of the lung has to be assisted or in severe conditions taken over.

  • Assistance by providing oxygen of by small breathing machines( High flow, CPAP)
  • Or in severe cases- the child is paralyzed and a lung machine (Ventilator) breaths for a child. A tube is connected from ventilator to the child’s throat through the mouth
  • Other medications
    • Reduce the fluid load by passing urine (Diuretics)
    • Treat infections with antibiotics
  • Physiotherapy



  • Change in Colour
  • Change in Consciousness
  • Breathless, Unable To Speak
  • Pre-existing Heart Conditions


Neonatal Respiratory distress is a respiratory distress occurring in preterm (babies born earlier than 37-week gestation) due to lack of a chemical in lung( see neonatal RDS section)

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