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Testing for Hearing Loss at Birth May Prevent SIDS

SIDS and the Researchers

An anesthesiologist, who has scrupulously dedicated personal time and money into researching Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, has begun to connect correlative information surrounding this otherwise mysterious affliction. Seattle Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer with diagnosis and recognition of SIDS since 1964. Dr. Bruce Beckwith originally began researching sudden infant death fifty years ago, making huge strides into how to define, recognize, and reduce the onslaught of SIDS.  Dr. Daniel Rubens, the anesthesiologist who has taken a special interest in researching SIDS, has sought solutions to rebut the perplexities of the syndrome that takes some 4,000 infant lives each year.  While at Seattle Children’s, Dr. Rubens has taken the previous findings of Dr. Beckwith and focused them toward abnormalities in the ear, which may effect breathing.

Hearing Loss, the Inner Ear, and SIDS

According to much of the research found at Children’s by Dr. Rubens and Dr. Susan Norton, there is a need for further investigation into the results of newborn hearing tests. The Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island began hearing tests for all newborns 13 years ago. With years of hearing test data, Rubens and Norton have been able to find more answers than ever before. Rhode Island studies are essentially frequency response tests,  or hearing tests for infants formulated for babies who lack the abilities to respond to normal hearing tests. They are given several frequencies and are determined a score based on what they may hear. The results are astonishing. There were 31 recorded SIDS cases. All 31 of those infants were found to have deficiencies in the right ear, marked by low scores across sound frequencies compared to infants who were not afflicted with SIDS.

How Damage to the Inner Ear May Cause SIDS

A low score on a frequency response test may indicate the possible damage of inner ear hairs, which Dr. Rubens has hypothesized relay nervous messages to the brain regarding low CO2 levels in the blood. Usually the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood is monitored and corrected when dangerously low by adjusting the depth and rate of breathing.

However, it is hypothesized that babies who suffer from the syndrome are succumbing to incredibly dangerous levels of CO2 that are not rectified by deeper and faster breathing because of a lapse in communication somewhere in the nervous system. The results of nervous system malfunction are thought, by doctors like Rubens, to cause the suffocation of infants. Thus, when there is damage to inner ear hairs, the brain’s receptors do not pick up on the fact that the distribution oxygen has become insufficient. The nervous system doesn’t receive the message and the baby’s breathing is not adjusted, causing the baby to suffocate.

Most often SIDS effects sleeping infants, where breathing is already slow and shallow creating a great risk for suffocation without the proper receptors in the inner ear. Still, SIDS has largely remained a mystery for doctors and parents alike, who have yet to make the syndrome manageable. However,  research and data coming out of Rhode Island allows for amazing insight into the future of SIDS Research.

The Women and Infants Hospital’s data reveals incredible insight into new ways to test and tackle SIDS before it afflicts an infant child. While the data, largely routed in hearing tests for infants, remains hardly conclusive, doctors can now correlate an infant failing a test to a high risk for SIDS. Doctors can now try diagnose poor hearing infants and then closely monitor their breathing in order to hopefully save lives and save the hearing receptors in the inner ear that could otherwise subdue an infant to an untimely end.

Ruben’s studies mark another huge breakthrough in how the medical community is assessing hearing loss, even at the youngest of ages, in order to ensure a better future; a better understanding of how hearing loss effects life.

By: Michael Strauss

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