SIDS Clues: Could This Research Reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Losses?

Premature babies are at a greater risk of SIDS than babies who are born at full term. Image by Brian Hall

Premature babies are at a greater risk of SIDS than babies who are born at full term. Image by Brian Hall.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is “the sudden, unexplained death of an infant younger than one year old” according to MedlinePlus. With all of our medical advances, how can all of these deaths still be unexplained? With new research, we’re one step closer to understanding SIDS.

SIDS Statistics

SIDS, also known as crib death, is most likely to occur between the ages of one month and four months of age. Although we do not know the exact causes of SIDS, those who tend to be at high risk include African Americans, American Indian, Alaska natives, premature babies, and baby boys.

New research from the Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, has provided another big breakthrough on why SIDS occurs – could this research lead to reduced SIDS rates?

SIDS: New Research

Dr. Daniel Rubens’ and his team of researchers at the Seattle’s Children’s Hospital have found that babies who die from SIDS don’t have a problem with their brain, a theory some have speculated. However, babies who die from SIDS may have a problem with their ears. Problems with hearing and the baby’s inner ear may be the missing link we need to stop crib death.


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Dr. Rubens’ latest research finds that in mice, inner ear dysfunction results in the inability to wake up and move away from something that is suffocating them. Dr. Rubens’ theory is that babies, when sleeping, can move into positions that can restrict their breathing – and those babies who have a hearing impairment in at least one ear don’t have the natural survival mechanism to wake up and preposition themselves.

This builds upon his previous research in 2008 that found that many SIDS babies had a hearing impairment at birth. Then in 2011 Dr. Rubens made another discovery, finding a link between the cells in the inner ear that help with balance and hearing and the body’s respiratory response to carbon dioxide. Dr. Rubens found that healthy ear cells are necessary for the body to increase breathing and get rid of excess carbon dioxide that can build up while sleeping.

New research suggests that the inner ear maybe the link to SIDS. Image by NASA.

New research suggests that the inner ear maybe the link to SIDS. Image by NASA.

Inner Ear Research On a Hunch

According to Dr. Rubens’ theory, trauma or injury to these healthy ear cells during birth can disrupt respiratory control and cause a predisposition to SIDS. Dr. Rubens’ research was all based on a hunch, an idea, that perhaps the inner ear had something to do with SIDS.

Dr. Rubens, an anesthesiologist and not a researcher, scientist, or even a specialist in SIDS, began exploring ways to support his theory. With no grant or funding, he set out and did work on his own and with the help of others has gotten to where he is today.

For the past three studies he has raised less than $100,000. Compare this to the typical research studies, and his cost isn’t even a drop in the bucket. In 2008 the National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $75 million on SIDS research.

Hearing Issues Contribute to SIDS: What Does This Mean For Parents?

Dr. Rubens’ findings show how problems in the inner ear may very well be linked to SIDS. Dr. Rubens’ next step is to conduct a two-year study in the United Kingdom that tracks newborn babies and their hearing for the first year of their lives. Cementing the link between SIDs and hearing problems in infants could help doctors reduce infant deaths through increased monitoring. Any step towards reduced SIDS rate is a giant step for families impacted by this condition.


Allen T, Garcia Iii AJ, Tang J, Ramirez JM, Rubens DD. Inner ear insult ablates the arousal response to hypoxia and hypercarbia.(2013). Neuroscience.

Allen T, Juric-Sekhar G, Campbell S, Mussar KE, Seidel K, Tan J, Zyphur M, Villagracia L, Stephanian D, Koch H, Ramirez JM, Rubens DD. Inner ear insult suppresses the respiratory response to carbon dioxide. (2011). Neuroscience. Accessed October 9, 2013.

Rubens DD, Vohr BR, Tucker R, O’Neil CA, Chung W. Newborn oto-acoustic emission hearing screening tests: preliminary evidence for a marker of susceptibility to SIDS. (2007). Early Human Development. Accessed October 9, 2013.

Business Journal. Seattle Children’s researcher finds a clue to the mystery of SIDS. (2013.) Accessed October 9, 2013.

MedlinePlus. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (2013). Accessed October 9, 2013.

Pugent Sound Business Journal. One doctor listened to his own inner voice and found a promising clue about SIDS. (2007). Accessed October 9, 2013.

Pugent Sound Business Journal. Children’s physician authors ground-breaking SIDS study. (2011). Accessed October 9, 2013.

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