Bedroom Fan Cuts SIDS Risk by 72%

MONDAY Oct. 6, 2008 -- Just keeping the air moving around a bedroom seems to dramatically reduce a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), new research suggests.

"What we found in this study is that if an infant had a fan that was used in the sleeping room, the infant's risk of SIDS was reduced by 72 percent compared to no fan in the room," said study senior author Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist in the division of research at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. The report appears in the October issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Although the rate of SIDS has declined significantly in recent years -- from 1.2 per 1,000 births in 1992 to 0.53 per 1,000 births in 2003 -- SIDS is still a leading killer of infants.

Li said the prevailing theory is that SIDS occurs because an infant re-breathes carbon dioxide and doesn't have either the strength to move from harm's way or a properly developed neurological system to warn of the impending danger. "For whatever reason, carbon dioxide is trapped in the airway," he said.

And the exact reason that happens is still unknown.

"In my opinion, I don't think it's always just one thing. I think multiple factors come into play. There's probably some underlying genetic risk that, along with something in the environment, triggers a whole cascade of events," said Dr. Raymond Pitetti, associate director of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Scientists have identified certain risk factors that increase the risk of SIDS, such as sleeping on the stomach or sleeping on soft bedding. Li and his colleagues recently discovered another factor that can decrease the risk of SIDS, and that's putting baby to bed with a pacifier.

To assess whether or not increasing the ventilation in a room would affect the risk of SIDS, the researchers compare information from mothers of 185 infants who died of SIDS with 312 randomly selected, age-matched infants. The infants were also matched based on their race or ethnicity and where they lived.

They found that the risk of SIDS was reduced by 72 percent if a baby slept in a room with a fan. Having an open window also seemed to reduce the risk, but this finding wasn't statistically significant.

"If parents, in addition to following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for SIDS prevention, want to add an extra layer of protection, they could add a fan to the room," said Li, who cautioned that parents need to use common sense when placing a fan so it's not too close to the crib and it's not somewhere a toddler could reach it.

"Parents still need to be aware that SIDS is a risk. Lay baby on his or her back to sleep. Don't use soft bedding. Give the baby a pacifier, and finally, have a fan in the room. There's really no risk to having a fan, and from this study it seems like it might benefit," Pitetti said.

Unfortunately, not everyone is heeding the SIDS prevention advice. According to the October issue of Pediatrics, about 25 percent of babies aren't sleeping on their backs, and 34 percent are regularly sleeping with their parents.

Another study in the same issue of Pediatrics found that when child-care providers receive specific SIDS training, the risk of SIDS goes down. Among 264 child-care programs that received training, the rate of back sleeping went from 51 percent to 62 percent. The authors of this study concluded that more training is needed for parents and child-care providers and that state mandates would help reduce the risk of SIDS even further.

More information

Read more about SIDS prevention from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Posted: October 2008


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