Predicting Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

A new study has found that infant hearing test results may predict sudden infant death syndrome.

The study, published by Dr. Daniel D. Rubens of Seattles Childrens Hospital and Regional Medical Center in a July, 2007 issue of Early Human Development, established that all babies in a study group who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) all shared the same characteristic difference in newborn hearing test results for the right inner ear, as compared to infants who did not have SIDS.

What it Means

For the first time, doctors could be capable of identifying newborns at risk for SIDS via a simple, affordable and routine hearing test administered shortly after birth.

The cause of SIDS, also known as “crib death” or “cot death,” has evaded the efforts of physicians for many centuries, and it continues to do so.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is to blame for a large portion of formerly unexplainable deaths of infants, typically two to four months old and hitting boys more than girls.

What is the Theory

It is a fact that our inner ear contains minute hairs, involved in hearing and vestibular functions. Dr. Rubens suggests that vestibular hair cells are important in transmitting information to the brain concerning blood level of carbon dioxide.

He proposes that any injury to these cells will disrupt regular respiratory control, giving them a key role in predisposing infants to SIDS.

SIDS infants in the study had a uniform four points lower score in their standard newborn hearing tests. This was testing three different sound frequencies in the right ear, when compared to babies that didnt die from SIDS. Not only that, but healthy infants generally test stronger in the right ear than the left.

In each of the SIDS cases studied though, the right ear tested lower than the left, inverting the test results of healthy babies.

According to Dr. Rubens, “This discovery opens a whole new line of inquiry into SIDS research. For the first time, its now possible that with a simple, standard hearing test babies could be identified as at risk for SIDS, allowing preventative measures to be implemented in advance of a tragic event.”

“It has been my great privilege to follow in Dr. Beckwiths footsteps with this new discovery that creates the possibility of identifying SIDS infants before tragedy strikes,” said Rubens. “Each new breakthrough brings us closer to making SIDS a condition of the past.”

Tragic Statistics

The syndrome is the cause of tragic death in approximately 1 in 1,000 newborns world-wide, making it the largest cause of death in young infants. In the United States approximately 3,600 deaths each year were attributed to SIDS from 1992-1999, according to an April, 2004 article in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Death occurs during sleep, with no warning, and no previous symptoms. Changes in infant care have been promoted including the “Back to Sleep” program discouraging sleeping on the stomach, and avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke. Various causes have been put forward, including disturbances in respiratory control and infant overheating, but to date nothing has proven conclusive.

Adapted from a Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center Press Release

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