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Study: Link between pollution and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Air pollution may contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to research at the universities of Oulu and Birmingham.

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Air pollution could play a role in crib death, according to a new study. Image: AOP

According to a new study, the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib or cot death, is 15 percent higher on days with higher air pollution than on less-polluted ones.

The universities of Oulu and Birmingham studied 200 cases of SIDS in Britain.

SIDS refers to the death of a healthy baby while sleeping for unexplainable reasons.

Researchers found that certain fine particles and nitrogen dioxide bear a connection to crib deaths.
"These fine particles are found, for example, in traffic pollution and fossil fuels," says professor Jouni Jaakkola, head of the centre for Environmental and Respiratory Health Research at the University of Oulu in Northern Finland.

For the study, 200 SIDS deaths over a ten-year period were examined from England’s West Midlands area. Air pollution levels there are the same or slightly higher than those in the Helsinki region, says Jaakkola.

”The plan is to carry out a similar study with Finnish material,” he adds.

Researchers say these results complement earlier studies indicating that, for example, cigarette smoke may be related to SIDS. In addition, there have been more cases of SIDS in cities than in the countryside.

Crib death associated regulation of breathing

According to Pertti Rintahaka, a specialist in Psychotherapy and Paediatric Neurology, the reason for SIDS is still unclear, but it is related to breathing and its regulation.

There are indicators that infants who die from SIDS have at some point when they were in the womb or during their brief life, been exposed to factors that caused a weakness in the supply of oxygen.

”There are also some unknown triggering factors,” says Rintahaka, who works at the Finnish private healthcare firm Mehiläinen.

Professor Jaakkola says that infants living in the countryside are in principle better protected from SIDS than those who live in urban areas. However, researchers don’t recommend that families with children move to the countryside just for the clean air because for many people such a move would increase the distances between work and daycare and likely require additional travel by car.

"This would increase air pollution and exposure to exhaust fumes,” says Jaakkola.

In Finland, there were eight reported cases of SIDS in 2016, up from six the previous year – but down from 15-20 annually in the first decade of the millennium, says Statistics Finland.

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