Chronic Respiratory Failure in Pediatrics

The respiratory system is a critical part of human health and contributes to the absorption and distribution of oxygen throughout the body. There are multiple tissues, as well as organs, that make up the respiratory system. The lungs are a central point for the respiratory system. In newborns, there are some scenarios where respiratory failure may be present. The pediatric patient requires careful treatment to prevent permanent damage or fatal complications in these situations. 

Chronic respiratory failure in pediatrics can be treated, often using multiple mechanisms and strategies. An early diagnosis of such issues can deliver a more positive outcome. Parents should be advised about symptoms to look out for and understand when they need to take their baby to a doctor for an examination. We take a look at what chronic respiratory failure in pediatrics is, the symptoms that may signal the problem, and current interventions. 

What Is Chronic Respiratory Failure in Pediatrics?

Respiratory failure in pediatrics refers to a condition where the lungs cannot meet the human body’s oxygen requirements. When breathing, our bodies take in air that is present around us. This air is pushed toward the lungs, where oxygen is extracted and infused into the blood circulatory system. This oxygenated blood then travels through the body and provides oxygen to essential parts, such as the heart, eyes, and even the brain. These parts of the body rely on a consistent oxygen supply to function correctly. 

In patients with chronic respiratory failure, the lungs are unable to extract a sufficient supply of oxygen every time the child breathes. It is important to note that respiratory failure can be classified as both acute and chronic. In acute cases of the condition, it is often viewed as an emergency situation that requires urgent medical attention. 

In cases where a pediatric patient is diagnosed with chronic respiratory failure, it means the child has developed a longer-term disease. This requires treatment over a period of time for symptoms to improve. However, when symptoms are not identified, and the condition is not treated at an early stage, then certain complications can develop. For example, one study reports that not recognizing respiratory failure in children is one of the leading causes behind the cardiopulmonary arrest, which can be a life-threatening complication. 

It is important to note that respiratory failure does not only refer to the infusion of oxygen into the bloodstream. During each breath, oxygen is taken from the air the child breathes in. At the same time, during exhalation, carbon dioxide is also expelled from the lungs. In some cases, the child’s lungs cannot effectively eliminate the carbon dioxide that has accumulated. There are also scenarios where both of these cases are present. 

Symptoms Of Chronic Respiratory Failure In Pediatrics

Certain symptoms tend to develop when pediatric patients develop chronic respiratory failure. Parents need to have a thorough understanding of these symptoms. When present, the parents are advised to consult with a doctor who can perform a physical examination on the child. This ensures the condition can be diagnosed at an early stage – which can effectively improve the treatment outlook. 

Difficulty breathing is generally one of the more common symptoms that pediatric patients may experience when they have chronic respiratory failure. In addition to shortness of breath, babies may also be seen breathing rapidly. In addition, toddlers and children with the condition may complain about headaches accompanying breathing difficulties. 

In babies, it may be difficult to detect problems like a headache. Parents should, however, be on the lookout for issues like lips or the skin turning blue. There are some cases where fingernails may also start to show a bluish appearance. Note that excessive sleepiness may be another sign, as the child may feel tired constantly due to the lack of oxygen entering their body. 

In severe cases, the child may experience seizures. There have also been scenarios where a pediatric patient enters a coma due to the presence of chronic respiratory failure. This generally happens in severe cases where the child’s body has a significant lack of oxygen entering the blood circulatory system. 

Diagnosis And Current Treatment Options

The diagnosis of chronic respiratory failure starts by identifying symptoms that point to this particular condition. If the parents note symptoms related to the condition in their baby, they should consult with the healthcare provider. The doctor will perform a physical examination on the baby and listen to their lungs and heart through a stethoscope. This will allow the doctor to detect any abnormalities and determine if the child’s lungs are not functioning as they should. 

There are certain medical tests that can be performed to assist in the process of diagnosing chronic respiratory failure in pediatric patients. The doctor may order these tests prior to implementing a treatment plan. The test results will provide the doctor with a more accurate overview of the condition, including its severity. Once the doctor knows how severe the condition is, they can develop a treatment strategy that will deliver more efficient results. Most children with the condition tend to survive, but the underlying conditions identified during diagnosis may have a role to play in the outcome. 

The underlying factors need to be corrected through the treatment plan initiated by the healthcare provider. It is, however, important to note that management strategies are also required to provide more immediate relief of the symptoms that the child is experiencing. Several management strategies can enhance the delivery of oxygen to tissue in the patient’s body. In some cases, a beta-agonist may be prescribed for use. This medication aims to assist in correcting the underlying factors contributing to chronic respiratory failure. Apart from a beta-agonist, some doctors may also prescribe the child corticosteroids.

Mechanical ventilation will usually also form part of these treatment procedures. This strategy helps push more oxygen into the child’s lungs. The idea is to provide the lungs with a higher concentration of oxygen, which can help to increase the amount of this gaseous substance being pushed toward the blood circulatory system. Therefore, regular usage of mechanical ventilation equipment is advisable during the treatment stage. This may help reduce the child’s risk of developing excessive breathing difficulties or other complications. Additionally, mechanical ventilation can make breathing easier for the child, improving their quality of life while underlying etiology associated with chronic respiratory failure is targeted during the treatment program. 


In infancy, chronic respiratory failure can be fatal when appropriate treatment procedures are not provided in a timely manner. This condition adversely affects oxygen delivery from the lungs into the blood circulatory system. Due to the critical role that an oxygen supply plays in the body, tissue damage and several complications can develop. Therefore, the condition is considered a long-term issue that needs to be carefully monitored by both the parents and healthcare providers.