As doctors work to pinpoint the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, a new study may show an important link between infant death and oxygen levels. It has to do with the elevation where you live.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. It concluded that babies living 8,000 feet or more above sea level may be at an increased risk of SIDS. In practical terms, the increase in risk is small, about a fraction of a percent. However, it may have important implications in helping doctors better understand the condition and how oxygen factors in.
Researchers have yet to medically explain what causes some babies to die unexpectedly in their sleep. These latest findings suggest it may have to do with a baby’s inability to wake itself from sleep when something is wrong, for example if they’re lacking oxygen.
The focused on unexplained infant deaths in towns in Colorado, the state with some of the highest elevations in the country. Researchers found that towns at elevations of lower than 8,000 feet had overall SIDS numbers that were consistent with national averages.
However, once elevations rose above 8,000 feet, the incidence of SIDS was higher. The incidence of SIDS rose from 0.42 deaths per every 1,000 live births (8,000 feet or lower) to 0.79 deaths per every 1,000 live births (above 8,000 feet). That’s nearly twice the rate of unexplained infant deaths.
What It Means
It’s a popular misconception that there is less oxygen in the air at higher elevations. In fact, the oxygen level is the same, but the air pressure is lower. This means every breath at a higher altitude brings less oxygen into our bodies. Earlier studies have shown that babies sleeping at higher elevations had lower levels of oxygen in their blood than those at lower elevations.
Researchers point out that this does not show a direct correlation or causation between elevation and SIDS death, but it give them one more clue in figuring out what causes SIDS.
One of the study’s authors told the New York Times this research is not a reason for families living at high elevations to pick up and move to sea level. It is, though, an important warning for parents in high-elevation towns to be extra vigilant about following the safe sleep recommendations, including always placing babies on their backs to sleep.
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