Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)

What is the treatment for BPD?

Infants with mild BPD may not need any special treatment except oxygen. Others may need help to support their breathing if:

  • they develop another lung condition, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia
  • their lungs don’t develop fully after they are born.

On this page:


Common treatments for BPD

Babies with mild BPD may not need any special treatment apart from a short time on oxygen. Children with severe BPD may need other treatments as well.

Children with BPD may be treated with breathing support or oxygen.

Breathing support

CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) is a type of breathing machine that helps your baby to breathe by moving air into their lungs and keeping the air sacs open.

Some babies with BPD may need mechanical ventilation (a machine that does the baby’s breathing for them.)

Your baby may have needed this treatment very early on to treat their RDS. Some babies with moderate to severe BPD continue to need it and may go home with breathing support.

Oxygen

If your child has low blood oxygen levels they may need additional oxygen at home.  Most infants with BPD only need additional oxygen until they are about a year old. 

Anti-inflammatory medicines

These medicines can help stop the lungs becoming inflamed or treat existing inflammation. This makes BPD less severe.

The most common type of anti-inflammatory medicine is steroids.  These are most powerful when taken by mouth or by injection, but they can cause side effects, particularly in young babies. Using an inhaler or nebuliser to take steroids means they go directly to your child’s lungs. This can reduce side effects, but researchers aren’t sure how effective they are in BPD.


Other treatments your child may have

Water medicines called diuretics

Babies with BPD may have fluid in the lungs. Diuretics can help move excess water out of the lungs by making your child wee more.  These medicines may be used when the babies are on the neonatal unit early in their course. There is no evidence to support the routine or sustained use of diuretics in established BPD.

Reliever medications called bronchodilators

Your child may be given an inhaler to help relax the muscles of their airways when they are wheezing or having difficulty breathing. This is not a treatment for BPD. 

Does BPD go away?

Most babies with BPD stop needing extra oxygen as they get older. As your child's lungs improve and mature and they grow new air sacs, they will have fewer problems with their breathing. Most children will outgrow their problems by the time they are 2-3 years old and may not need further treatment. But in more severe cases, this may take longer.


What else can I do to help my child with BPD?

There are lots of things that parents can do to help children with BPD.

Do not smoke, or let others smoke, around your child and try to avoid exposing your child to air pollution. Read more about the risks of passive smoking and vaping in our information on risks to children’s lung health.

Make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date and ask your doctor about the flu vaccine and vaccination against RSV. Doctors may recommend the RSV vaccination for babies in their first winter, to help prevent serious infection.

Make sure they have a healthy diet. Breathing, fighting infection and coughing can use up your child’s energy. Their immune system will need plenty of protein and vitamins to fight infection. The NHS website has useful information about feeding your child.

Avoid infection where possible. Teach your children to use a disposable tissue and wash their hands after coughing and sneezing. Make sure that you do this, too. We’ve got more information about what you can do to avoid infection.

In an emergency

Call 999 now if your child has any of these breathing-related symptoms: 

  • severe breathing difficulties
  • grunting with the effort of trying to breathe 
  • the muscles under their ribs are sucking in with each breath
  • fast breathing
  • your child won’t wake up, or won’t stay awake
  • breathing stops for more than 20 seconds at a time 
  • regular shorter pauses in their breathing while they are awake
  • very pale or blue skin, or the inside of their lips and tongue are blue
  • fitting, if they have never had a fit before.

For more information, see our pages on when to visit your doctor and when to call 999.  


Will my child need to go to hospital?

Children with BPD are more likely to have problems in the first 2-3 years of their life. Your child is more likely to need to go to hospital during this time.

Your child may also need to go to hospital if they develop an infection or have trouble breathing.

Next : What complications are associated with BPD? >

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.