Neonatal Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia: Treatment

How is bronchopulmonary dysplasia treated?

The Breathing Institute at Children

Although there is no cure for BPD, doctors have many tools to help support the breathing and oxygen needs of infants with BPD, and to enable them to grow and thrive.

Babies first diagnosed with BPD receive intense supportive care in the hospital, usually in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) until they are able to breathe well enough on their own without the support of a mechanical ventilator.

Infants with BPD are also treated with different kinds of medications that help to support their lung function.  These include: 

  • Bronchodilators (such as albuterol) to help keep the airways open
  • Diuretics (such as furosemide) to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Short courses of steroids maybe used in severe cases of BPD
  • Antibiotics are sometimes needed to fight bacterial infections because babies with BPD are more likely to develop pneumonia.
  • Surfactant is a natural lubricant that improves breathing function. Babies with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) who have not yet been diagnosed with BPD may not produce enough surfactant on their own, so giving them surfactant may reduce the chance that BPD develops.

Babies sick enough to be hospitalized with BPD may need feedings of high-calorie formula through a gastric tube inserted into the stomach to ensure they get enough calories and nutrients and start to grow.

In severe cases, babies with BPD cannot use their gastrointestinal systems to digest food.  These babies require intravenous (IV) feedings –called TPN, or total parenteral nutrition– made up of fats, proteins, sugars and nutrients. These are given through a small tube inserted into a large vein through the baby's skin.

How long do babies with BPD stay in the hospital?

Infants with BPD can stay in the NICU for several weeks to a few months. The average length of stay is 120 days, according to the National Institutes of Health. Even after leaving the hospital, a baby might require continued medication, breathing treatments or even oxygen at home.

Most children are weaned from supplemental oxygen by the end of their first year, but a few with serious cases may need a ventilator for several years or, sometimes, their entire lives (although this is rare). When long-term ventilation is needed, a tracheostomy tube (a tube placed by surgery that passes through the skin into the windpipe below the vocal cords) may be discussed. While this is a great option for some patients, many families decide not to pursue this for reasons centered on their child’s quality of life.

Improvement for any baby with BPD is gradual.  Some infants will be slow to improve; others may not recover from the condition if their lung disease is very severe. Lungs continue to grow for 5 to 7 years, but there can be subtle abnormal lung function even at school age in some cases. Many babies diagnosed with BPD will recover close to normal lung function, but this takes time.  

What are home care guidelines for children with BPD?

Parents play a critical role in caring for an infant with BPD. The following tips will help maximize your child’s treatment and healing:

  • Reduce your child's exposure to potential respiratory infections by limiting visits from sick people. 
  • If your child needs daycare, pick a small center, where there will be less exposure to germs.
  • Make sure your child receives all recommended vaccinations, including a flu shot each year. 
  • Keep your child away from tobacco smoke, particularly in your home. It is a serious respiratory irritant.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s bronchopulmonary dysplasia?

Our interdisciplinary Ventilator Care Program  (VCP) offers key features that are required for the successful care of children who require chronic ventilation. We facilitate a smooth transition between inpatient and outpatient care. The VCP consists of a team of providers with the experience and focused interest in providing the highest quality of care to children and their families. Key aspects of the VCP include training, research, education, patient advocacy and the development of clinical care guidelines using quality improvement approaches.