Overventilation injuries in newborns occur when a baby receives too much air through mechanical ventilation, a machine that assists with breathing. This can damage their lungs and other parts of their body, leading to conditions such as chronic lung disease, pneumothorax (collapsed lung), and intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain). Essentially, these injuries are caused by excessive air being delivered to the baby, resulting in potential harm. It is crucial to carefully regulate the amount of air given to these tiny babies to avoid causing injury. Understanding and preventing these injuries is essential for keeping newborns safe and healthy.

What Is Overventilation?

Overventilation refers to the condition where mechanical ventilation, used to assist or replace spontaneous breathing, exceeds the respiratory needs of the patient, particularly in newborns. This can involve excessive delivery of tidal volumes (the amount of air per breath), overly high airway pressures, or too rapid breathing rates. Overventilation can lead to a range of complications, collectively known as ventilator-induced lung injuries (VILI), due to the delicate and developing nature of newborn lungs.

Key Aspects Of Overventilation

Excessive Tidal Volumes: Delivering larger volumes of air than the infant’s lungs can comfortably handle, causing overdistention and potential rupture of alveoli.

High Airway Pressures: Applying pressures that are too high can physically damage lung tissues, leading to barotrauma and air leaks.

Rapid Breathing Rates: Providing breaths at a rate that exceeds the infant’s natural respiratory rate can lead to hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis (an imbalance caused by too much CO2 being exhaled).

Prolonged Ventilation: Long-term use of mechanical ventilation without appropriate weaning can cause cumulative damage and increase the risk of chronic lung disease.

What Is Overventilation Injury?

Overventilation Injuries
Ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI), occurs when mechanical ventilation used to support a patient’s breathing causes damage to the lungs

Overventilation injury, also known as ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI), occurs when mechanical ventilation used to support a patient’s breathing causes damage to the lungs. This can happen in newborns when the ventilator settings are not appropriately tailored to their delicate and developing lung tissues.

Types of Overventilation Injuries


Volutrauma is caused by the delivery of excessively large tidal volumes during mechanical ventilation. This overdistention of the alveoli can lead to alveolar rupture and subsequent air leaks, resulting in conditions such as pneumothorax (air in the pleural space), pneumomediastinum (air in the mediastinum), and pulmonary interstitial emphysema (air within the lung interstitial space). The physical stress on the lung tissue from overinflation can cause significant damage, making it a critical concern in ventilated newborns.


Barotrauma results from the use of high airway pressures during mechanical ventilation. When the pressures used to inflate the lungs are too high, it can cause direct damage to the lung tissues, leading to similar air leak syndromes as seen in volutrauma. This type of injury underscores the importance of carefully managing the pressures applied by the ventilator to avoid inflicting harm on the infant’s fragile lungs.


Atelectrauma is the injury caused by the repetitive opening and closing of alveoli. This phenomenon occurs when alveoli collapse and then reopen with each breath, leading to shear stress and damage to the lung tissue. The constant mechanical strain can induce inflammation and exacerbate lung injury, emphasizing the need for ventilation strategies that maintain alveolar stability and prevent repeated collapse and expansion.


Biotrauma involves the inflammatory response triggered by mechanical ventilation. Overventilation can induce the release of inflammatory mediators within the lung, leading to a systemic inflammatory response that can affect multiple organs. This inflammatory cascade not only damages lung tissue but can also contribute to broader systemic complications, highlighting the complex interplay between mechanical forces and biological responses in ventilator-induced injuries.

Symptoms Of Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Respiratory Distress

Newborns suffering from overventilation injuries often exhibit signs of respiratory distress. Despite receiving mechanical ventilation, these infants may show increased work of breathing, characterized by rapid or labored breathing, nasal flaring, grunting, and retractions (visible sinking of the chest wall with each breath). This paradoxical worsening of respiratory status indicates that the ventilation strategy may be causing harm rather than providing relief.


Hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in the blood, is a common symptom of overventilation injuries. Damaged lung tissue and air leaks resulting from volutrauma, barotrauma, or atelectrauma can impair gas exchange, leading to insufficient oxygenation. Clinically, this may be observed as cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes) and low oxygen saturation levels on pulse oximetry.

Blood Gas Abnormalities

Overventilation can cause significant disturbances in blood gas levels. Newborns may present with hypocapnia (abnormally low levels of carbon dioxide) if ventilation rates and volumes are excessively high, or hypercapnia (elevated carbon dioxide levels) if lung injury impairs effective ventilation. Arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis can reveal these imbalances, providing critical information for adjusting ventilatory support.

Decreased Breath Sounds

Air leak syndromes, such as pneumothorax or pulmonary interstitial emphysema, can lead to decreased or absent breath sounds on auscultation. This is due to the presence of air outside the lung tissue, which disrupts normal lung expansion and sound transmission. Healthcare providers may detect these changes using a stethoscope during physical examination.

Radiographic Findings

Chest X-rays are instrumental in diagnosing overventilation injuries. Radiographic evidence may include signs of air leaks, such as pneumothorax, where free air is visible in the pleural space, or pulmonary interstitial emphysema, where air pockets are seen within the lung tissue. These findings help confirm the presence of overventilation injuries and guide appropriate management.

Causes Of Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation injuries in newborns, often resulting from mechanical ventilation, can arise due to a variety of factors related to the inappropriate application of ventilation settings and the inherent vulnerabilities of neonatal lung physiology. Understanding these causes is crucial for preventing and managing such injuries in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

High Tidal Volumes

Delivering excessively large tidal volumes during mechanical ventilation can cause overdistention of the alveoli, leading to volutrauma. Newborn lungs, particularly those of preterm infants, are not fully developed and are highly susceptible to damage from high-volume ventilation, which can result in alveolar rupture and air leaks.

High Peak Inspiratory Pressures (PIP)

The use of high peak inspiratory pressures to deliver breaths can cause barotrauma. High pressures can physically damage the delicate lung tissues of newborns, leading to air leak syndromes such as pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, and pulmonary interstitial emphysema. Managing and minimizing these pressures is essential to reduce the risk of injury.

Rapid Ventilation Rates

Ventilating at rates that exceed the infant’s natural respiratory rate can lead to hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis, where too much carbon dioxide is exhaled. Rapid rates can also contribute to atelectrauma by causing repetitive opening and closing of alveoli, leading to shear stress and lung tissue damage.

Inadequate Ventilator Settings

Incorrect ventilator settings that do not match the infant’s respiratory needs can exacerbate the risk of overventilation injuries. This includes settings that are not appropriately adjusted for the infant’s size, lung compliance, and underlying respiratory condition, leading to excessive volumes or pressures being delivered.

Prolonged Mechanical Ventilation

Extended use of mechanical ventilation without adequate weaning can increase the risk of cumulative lung damage. Prolonged exposure to ventilatory support can lead to chronic lung injury and conditions such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease common in preterm infants who have received long-term ventilation.

Lack of Monitoring

Inadequate monitoring of the infant’s respiratory status, blood gases, and lung mechanics can contribute to overventilation injuries. Continuous monitoring is essential to detect and correct inappropriate ventilation parameters promptly. Regular assessments help in adjusting the ventilatory support to the changing needs of the newborn.

Prematurity and Underdeveloped Lungs

Premature infants are at a higher risk of overventilation injuries due to their underdeveloped lungs, which are more fragile and less compliant. These infants often require mechanical ventilation to support their immature respiratory systems, making them particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of overventilation.

Treatment Options For Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation Injuries
Treatment Options For Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation injuries in newborns, also known as ventilator-induced lung injuries (VILI), require prompt intervention to mitigate further damage and promote healing. Treatment approaches can be categorized into operative and non-operative methods, depending on the severity and specific manifestations of the injury.

Operative Treatment

Surgical Intervention For Air Leaks

Pneumothorax: In cases of pneumothorax, where air accumulates in the pleural space, surgical intervention may be necessary. This typically involves inserting a chest tube to evacuate the air and re-establish normal lung expansion.
Pneumomediastinum: Surgical intervention may also be required for pneumomediastinum, where air accumulates in the mediastinum. This could involve drainage of the air or other procedures to address the underlying cause.


In severe cases of lung injury or complications such as persistent air leaks, thoracotomy (surgical opening of the chest cavity) may be considered. This allows for direct visualization and repair of lung tissue damage, as well as placement of chest tubes for drainage.

Non-Operative Treatment

Conservative Management

Optimization of Ventilator Settings: Adjusting ventilator parameters to minimize further lung injury is a cornerstone of non-operative management. This may involve reducing tidal volumes, limiting peak inspiratory pressures, and optimizing positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) to improve lung compliance while avoiding overdistention.

Surfactant Therapy: Administering exogenous surfactant may improve lung compliance and function, especially in premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) or other surfactant deficiency-related conditions.

Permissive Hypercapnia: Allowing for slightly elevated carbon dioxide levels (permissive hypercapnia) can reduce the need for aggressive ventilation and minimize the risk of barotrauma and volutrauma.

Non-Invasive Ventilation: Transitioning to non-invasive ventilation modalities such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) may help provide respiratory support while reducing the risk of further lung injury associated with invasive mechanical ventilation.

Supportive Care

Monitoring and Surveillance: Close monitoring of the infant’s respiratory status, blood gases, and radiographic findings is essential for guiding treatment decisions and assessing response to therapy.

Nutritional Support: Adequate nutrition is vital for supporting the healing process and promoting overall growth and development in newborns with overventilation injuries.

Multidisciplinary Care: Collaboration among neonatologists, pediatric pulmonologists, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare professionals is crucial for providing comprehensive care and optimizing outcomes for affected infants.

Does Overventilation Injuries Causes Asthama?

Overventilation injuries themselves do not directly cause asthma. However, they can contribute to respiratory complications that may increase the risk of developing asthma or asthma-like symptoms later in life, particularly in premature infants or those with underlying lung conditions.

Indirect Mechanisms Linking Overventilation Injuries to Asthma:

Airway Remodeling

Overventilation injuries, such as volutrauma and barotrauma, can lead to inflammation and damage to the airway epithelium. Prolonged inflammation and tissue remodeling processes may result in structural changes in the airways, making them more prone to hyperreactivity and narrowing, characteristic features of asthma.

Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

Preterm infants who experience overventilation injuries are at an increased risk of developing bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease characterized by impaired alveolar and vascular development. Children with a history of BPD have a higher likelihood of developing asthma later in childhood.

Altered Immune Response

Overventilation injuries can trigger an inflammatory response in the lungs, which may alter immune regulation and contribute to the development of asthma-like symptoms. Dysregulated immune responses early in life can predispose individuals to allergic sensitization and asthma development later on.

Respiratory Sensitization

Lung injury caused by overventilation may lead to increased sensitivity of the airways to various environmental triggers, such as allergens, pollutants, or respiratory viruses. This heightened airway responsiveness can manifest as asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, upon exposure to these triggers.

Long Term Effects Of Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation Injuries
Long Term Effects Of Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation injuries in newborns can have significant long-term effects on respiratory health and overall development. These effects can vary depending on factors such as the severity of the injury, the gestational age of the infant, and the presence of underlying lung conditions.

Here are some of the potential long-term effects:

Chronic Lung Disease

Overventilation injuries, particularly in premature infants, can lead to chronic lung diseases such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD is characterized by impaired lung development, inflammation, and scarring of the lung tissue. Children with a history of BPD may experience persistent respiratory symptoms, reduced lung function, and an increased risk of respiratory infections throughout childhood.


Overventilation injuries can predispose infants to asthma later in life. Lung damage and inflammation caused by overventilation may increase airway hyperreactivity and sensitivity to environmental triggers, leading to the development of asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Reduced Lung Function

Lung injury from overventilation can result in impaired lung function, including reduced lung compliance and increased airway resistance. These changes may persist into childhood and adulthood, affecting respiratory mechanics and exercise tolerance.

Neurodevelopmental Impairment

Infants who experience overventilation injuries may be at risk of neurodevelopmental impairment, particularly if they require prolonged mechanical ventilation or experience hypoxia or hypercapnia. Neurological complications such as cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, and behavioral disorders may occur in some cases.

Growth and Developmental Delays

Overventilation injuries can impact overall growth and development in newborns. Prolonged hospitalization, nutritional challenges, and the stress of critical illness may contribute to growth delays, failure to thrive, and developmental delays in affected infants.

Respiratory Morbidities

Children with a history of overventilation injuries may be at increased risk of respiratory morbidities, including recurrent respiratory infections, reactive airway disease, and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. These conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life and may require ongoing medical management.

Psychological Impact

The experience of overventilation injuries and associated complications can also have psychological implications for both the child and their caregivers. Managing chronic respiratory conditions, frequent hospitalizations, and developmental challenges may contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression in affected individuals and their families.

Overventilation Injuries Happens Due To Medical Malpractice

Overventilation injuries in newborns can indeed occur due to medical malpractice, particularly when healthcare providers fail to adhere to established standards of care or exercise proper judgment in managing mechanical ventilation.

Here are some scenarios where medical malpractice may contribute to overventilation injuries:

Failure to Monitor

Inadequate monitoring of the infant’s respiratory status, blood gases, and lung mechanics can lead to overventilation injuries. Healthcare providers have a duty to closely monitor ventilated infants and adjust ventilator settings promptly to prevent excessive ventilation.

Improper Ventilator Settings

Incorrect ventilator settings that do not match the infant’s respiratory needs can exacerbate the risk of overventilation injuries. This includes setting tidal volumes, inspiratory pressures, and respiratory rates too high for the infant’s size, lung compliance, and underlying condition.

Lack of Training or Expertise

Healthcare providers who lack adequate training or expertise in neonatal respiratory care may inadvertently cause overventilation injuries through improper ventilation techniques or mismanagement of ventilator settings. Proper education and ongoing training are essential for ensuring competency in neonatal intensive care.

Negligence in Supervision

Negligence in supervising medical staff responsible for mechanical ventilation can contribute to overventilation injuries. Healthcare facilities must ensure adequate staffing levels and supervision to prevent errors in ventilator management and promptly address any deviations from standard protocols.

Failure to Recognize Complications

Delayed recognition of complications such as pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, or pulmonary interstitial emphysema can result in worsened overventilation injuries. Healthcare providers must be vigilant in monitoring for signs of air leaks and other ventilator-related complications.

Inadequate Informed Consent

Failure to obtain informed consent from parents or guardians regarding the risks and benefits. Mechanical ventilation can lead to legal liability if overventilation injuries occur. Parents have the right to be informed about the potential complications associated with medical interventions and to participate in treatment decisions for their newborns.

Precautions For Preventing Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation Injuries
Precautions For Preventing Overventilation Injuries In Newborns

Overventilation injuries in newborns can have serious consequences, making prevention a critical aspect of neonatal intensive care. Implementing appropriate precautions can help minimize the risk of overventilation injuries and optimize respiratory support for vulnerable infants.

Lung-Protective Ventilation Strategies

Implementing lung-protective ventilation strategies is crucial for preventing overventilation injuries.

This includes:

  • Low Tidal Volumes: Using smaller tidal volumes tailored to the infant’s size and lung compliance to avoid overdistention of the alveoli.
  • Minimizing Peak Inspiratory Pressures: Keeping peak inspiratory pressures as low as possible to prevent barotrauma and minimize lung injury.

Individualized Ventilator Settings

Tailoring ventilator settings to the specific needs of each infant is essential for optimizing respiratory support and minimizing the risk of overventilation injuries.

Factors to consider include:

  • Gestational Age and Lung Maturity: Adjusting ventilator parameters based on the infant’s gestational age and degree of lung maturity to avoid excessive ventilation in premature infants.
  • Underlying Lung Conditions: Modifying ventilator settings in response to underlying lung conditions. Such as respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) to provide appropriate support without exacerbating lung injury.

Continuous Monitoring

Regular and vigilant monitoring of the infant’s respiratory status, blood gases, and lung mechanics is essential for early detection and prevention of overventilation injuries.

Key monitoring measures include:

  • Clinical Assessment: Assessing for signs of respiratory distress, including increased work of breathing, abnormal breath sounds, and oxygenation status.
  • Blood Gas Analysis: Regular analysis of arterial blood gases to monitor oxygenation and ventilation status and guide adjustments to ventilator settings.

Multidisciplinary Collaboration

Collaboration among healthcare providers, including neonatologists, respiratory therapists, and nurses, is essential for ensuring comprehensive care and adherence to established protocols for respiratory support.

Key aspects of collaboration include:

  • Interdisciplinary Rounds: Conducting regular team-based rounds to discuss ventilator management strategies, monitor progress, and address any concerns or challenges.
  • Communication and Education: Providing ongoing education and training to healthcare staff on proper ventilation techniques, recognition of overventilation injuries, and adherence to protocols for prevention and management.

Family Engagement and Support

Involving parents or guardians in the care of their newborn and providing education and support can enhance their understanding of respiratory support and facilitate their active participation in decision-making.

Family-centered care principles include:

  • Informed Consent: Ensuring parents or guardians are fully informed about the risks and benefits of mechanical ventilation and actively involved in treatment decisions for their newborn.
  • Supportive Environment: Creating a supportive and transparent environment where families feel empowered to ask questions, voice concerns, and actively participate in their infant’s care.


What are overventilation injuries in newborns?

Overventilation injuries occur when mechanical ventilation leads to lung damage in newborns, due to excessive tidal volumes, high airway pressures, or rapid ventilation rates.

What causes overventilation injuries in newborns?

Overventilation injuries can occur due to factors such as inappropriate ventilator settings, inadequate monitoring, lack of expertise in neonatal respiratory care, and prolonged mechanical ventilation, particularly in premature infants.

What are the symptoms of overventilation injuries in newborns?

Symptoms may include respiratory distress, hypoxia, blood gas abnormalities, decreased breath sounds, and characteristic radiographic findings such as air leaks. Infants may exhibit signs of increased work of breathing, cyanosis, and decreased oxygen saturation levels.

How are overventilation injuries diagnosed in newborns?

Diagnosis typically involves clinical assessment, blood gas analysis, radiographic imaging (such as chest X-rays), and close monitoring of respiratory status and lung mechanics. Detection of air leaks or abnormalities on imaging may confirm the presence of overventilation injuries.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Overventilation Injuries In Newborns?

Long-term effects may include chronic lung disease, asthma, reduced lung function, neurodevelopmental impairment, growth and developmental delays, respiratory morbidities, and psychological impact on both the child and caregivers.

Contact Us Now For Birth-Related Injuries

If you believe your child was injured during birth, it’s important to talk to someone who can help you understand what happened and what you can do next. Our birth injury and malpractice lawyers in Chicago have years of experience handling cases just like yours. We will also work hard to get you the compensation your family deserves. Don’t hesitate to call us at (312) 598-0930 today to get the help you need.

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