BACKGROUND: Surfactant metabolism disorders may result in diffuse lung disease in children. CASE PRESENTATION: We report a 3-years-old boy with dry cough, progressive hypoxemia, dyspnea and bilateral ground glass opacities at chest high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) who had no variants in genes encoding surfactant proteins or transcription factors. Lung histology strongly suggested an abnormality of surfactant protein. A 7-month course of pulse intravenous high-dose methylprednisolone plus oral hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin led to gradual weaning from oxygen and oral steroids, and to improvement of cough and dyspnea. Over the follow-up period, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were not withdrawn as cough and dyspnea re-appeared at each attempt and disappeared at re-start. At 6 years of age chest HRCT still appeared unchanged, but clinical symptoms or signs were absent. CONCLUSIONS: In children suspected of inborn errors of pulmonary surfactant metabolism who do not have a recognized genetic mutation, lung biopsy with consistent histology may help physicians to address the definitive diagnosis.