Hyaline membrane disease is the old name for the condition that is currently known as respiratory distress syndrome in infants (RDS). If your doctor diagnoses your baby’s disease as:
• neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
• infant respiratory distress syndrome
it means the baby is ailing with hyaline membrane disease. This disease generally affects babies born earlier than the 28 to 32 weeks of gestation or premature babies.
With this disease, the alveoli (or small air sacs at the end of bronchioles in the lungs) are lined with dead cells and proteins thus making gas exchange in the lungs difficult. The hyaline membrane begins to take on a glassy appearance. The cause of the hyaline membrane disease (HMD) is the deficiency of a molecule called surfactant, which triggers the process of dead cell deposition on alveoli. In some cases, the structural flaw of the lungs also aggravates the condition.
What happens is that the surfactant, which is a mix of lipoproteins and phospholipids, is secreted to the lung tissues to reduce the surface tension in the air passages and help the alveoli open for gas exchange. If there is not enough of this surfactant, then the alveoli are forced to close and collapse with each exhalation. As this happens, affected and destroyed cells (the hyaline cells) gather in the airways and cause more obstruction. It must be noted that the weak or ill-formed ribs of the preterm baby aggravate the situation causing deep retractions, insufficient inhalation and sometimes eventual collapse of the lungs where a ventilator is required to do the breathing for the baby.
There are times when HMD condition though present, is not apparent in preterms and may be asymptomatic to start with. However, most who suffer from it exhibit the following symptoms, which heighten three days after birth:
• labored breathing
• rapid breathing (tachypnea)
• signs of insetting lung collapse (atelectasis)
• flaring nostrils
• blue coloring of skin due to inadequate oxygen levels in the blood
• chest retractions