Sudden Infant Deaths Linked To Elevation

By: Stephanie Pappas
Published: 05/25/2015 05:13 AM EDT on LiveScience

Babies who live at high elevations, those above 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), may face a slightly increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, new research finds.

But researchers urge parents not to panic about the new findings.

“The absolute risk [of SIDS] remains very low, and … this is in no way a call to abandon residence [in] or visits to high-altitude” locations, said study researcher Dr. David Katz, a cardiologist at the University of Colorado Denver.

But the research does suggest that low oxygen levels might play a role in SIDS — and that finding could hint at the cause of tragic, unexplained infant deaths.

Safe sleep

SIDS is defined as the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby under the age of 1 year, typically during sleep. No one knows what causes SIDS, though some data suggests that babies who die of SIDS may have subtle brain-stem abnormalities that prevent them from rousing when their oxygen levels drop.

At high elevations, oxygen makes up 21 percent of the air, just as it does at lower elevations. But because the air pressure is lower at higher altitudes, there are fewer oxygen molecules present in every breath. Previous research shows that infants sleeping at high elevations may have hypoxia, or low oxygen levels in their blood. One Austrian study published in 1998 found a higher risk of SIDS at high elevations in babies sleeping on their stomachs compared with babies at lower elevations.

However, previous studies on SIDS and elevation were small, and they took place before the national Back to Sleep campaign, which encourages parents to put babies on their backs to sleep. Since the campaign —> Read More