What are common respiratory conditions in infants?

A few of the most common respiratory conditions that infants may suffer from are respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), bronchiolitis, croup and asthma. Whooping cough, or pertussis, used to be very common but, thanks to vaccinations, it is now not very widespread.

RDS is rare in full-term babies but it is very common in babies born six weeks premature or more. Premature babies have under-developed lungs and lack the protective substance, known as surfactant, which keeps the air sacs in the lungs inflated. As the air sacs in the lungs collapse, the baby has to work very hard to breathe and may not get sufficient amounts of oxygen. RDS is very dangerous but can be treated.


RSV is a highly contagious disease that starts out as a common cold, but as the infection worsens, it spreads into the lower respiratory system and causes the infant’s tiny airways, known as bronchioles, to swell. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, though bronchiolitis can be caused by the flu or other viruses. As the bronchioles become inflamed, they fill with mucous; this makes it difficult for the infant to breathe and causes a wheeze.

RSV is one of the causes of croup. Croup usually worsens at night and is recognized by a cough that sounds like a dog barking. The infant may make a high-pitched noise when breathing in and have stridor -- noisy, labored breathing -- in addition to becoming hoarse. Asthma occurs in infants with sensitive airways and causes chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. It can be triggered by food allergies or by exposure to chemicals, viruses, allergens or cold air, causing the infant’s airways to contract and become inflamed. The inflammation results in mucous production, which obstructs the airways and makes breathing difficult.