Sudden Infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the thoroughly investigated but still unexplained death of an infant younger than one year of age. It is a devastating event for families, causing grief, guilt, unanswered questions, and intensive anxiety during subsequent pregnancies. Although many theories have been advanced, no definitive cause has been identified which has made definitive prevention elusive. Since 2003, a major change in infant sleep position, the placing of infants on their backs, has halved the number of crib deaths, but it still remains the leading cause of post neonatal death in the United States.

For each additional SIDS "risk factor" they found that when a fan was used, the decrease in SIDS was extremely significant.

A recent study, based on the theory that infants' re-breathing exhaled carbon dioxide could be a factor in SIDS was reported in the October Issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The results are compelling and parents should consider discussing its implications with their children's doctors.

In the normal respiratory pattern, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide to eliminate it from our bodies and we breath in fresh air. The investigators reasoned that if the exhaled carbon dioxide was remaining too close to the baby, then environmental interventions which dispersed exhaled air, and circulated it away from the baby's nose and mouth would decrease the incidence of SIDS.

They interviewed mothers of babies who had died from SIDS, and compared their answers to mothers of babies who had not died, regarding their use of fans and open windows. They found that babies who slept in rooms with fans had a significantly lower incidence, 72% less, of SIDS. They also compared the two groups based on other childcare habits, which are thought to increase the risk of SIDS. These included sleeping position on the belly or on the side, sharing a bed with a non- parent, non-use of a pacifier, closed windows, and warmer room temperature.

For each additional SIDS "risk factor" they found that when a fan was used, the decrease in SIDS was extremely significant. They postulated that the suspected risk factors (position, pacifiers, room temperature etc.,) were related to increased risks of rebreathing carbon dioxide and the use of the fan addressed this risk. For example, the fan dispersed the carbon dioxide from the faces of the children sleeping in the prone or side position, or moved the air around a room with a closed window and increased ventilation.

The investigators describe some potential biases in their study populations but feel that their results strongly suggest that using a fan may be "an effective intervention for lowering the risk of SIDS in sleeping environments which facilitate rebreathing."

Parents are urged to discuss this information with their pediatricians and to keep in mind the hazards that may be associated with having a fan in a baby's room. Fans should be kept well out of reach of toddlers, the temperature in the baby's room should be monitored, the baby's general health should be considered, and parents should rely on their pediatricians' advice for how the best way they can most effectively and safely institute this and other recommendations to prevent SIDS.