Diseases & Conditions


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Transient Tachypnea


Transient tachypnea of the newborn (transient rapid breathing, neonatal wet-lung syndrome) is temporary difficulty with breathing and low blood oxygen levels due to excessive fluid in the lungs after birth.

This disorder usually occurs in newborns born a few weeks before term or at term. It is more common after a caesarean section delivery. It is especially likely to occur if the mother has not been in labor before delivery (for example, a mother who has a scheduled caesarean section).

Before birth, the air sacs of the lungs are filled with fluid. Immediately after birth, the fluid must be cleared from the lungs so that the air sacs can fill with air and the newborn can establish normal breathing. Some of the fluid is squeezed out of the lungs by pressure on the chest during a vaginal delivery. More of the fluid is rapidly reabsorbed directly by the cells lining the air sacs and from which it is immediately transported into the bloodstream. If this fluid transfer does not occur rapidly, then the air sacs continue to be partially filled with fluid and the newborn has difficulty breathing.

A newborn with transient tachypnea has respiratory distress with rapid breathing, drawing in of the chest wall during breathing in and "grunting" during breathing out, and may develop a bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis) if the blood oxygen levels become low. A chest x-ray shows abnormal results.

Most newborns with transient tachypnea recover completely within 2 to 3 days. Treatment with oxygen is usually needed, although some newborns may need continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP—breathing spontaneously against positive pressure oxygen or air administered through tubes placed in the newborn's nostrils) or assistance with a ventilator.

Last full review/revision February 2003

Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition