Low Level Exposure Found to be a Factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Chronic low level exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) from primarily indoor combustion sources is a major contributing factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This paper ties together and highlights previously examined correlations between the physiological effects of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure (and other combustion by-products) and SIDS, as well as introduces new correlations, so that practical prevention methods may be shared with the public and more explicit research stimulated.

In addition, this paper reveals the need to assess the SIDS infant’s total environmental exposure to CO. Hemoglobin has an affinity for CO approximately 250 times that of oxygen; fetal hemoglobin has an even greater affinity. Carbon monoxide is a major toxic component of cigarette smoke. Smoking is a potent risk factor for SIDS. Additional common sources of CO to consider are gas and wood burning appliances, auto exhaust and more. Pregnant women, unborn babies, infants and children are all especially vulnerable to the hazardous physiological effects of carbon monoxide. Some pathophysiological similarities exist between victims of SIDS and victims of CO poisoning. Furthermore, since females excrete CO 25% faster than males, it can be postulated that this is a primary reason of the male predominance of SIDS.

The most common time for SIDS to occur is between 2 to 4 months of age, at a time when the hypoxic and toxic effects of CO (prenatal and postnatal) may have a more profound effect as the physiological changes in the infant’s hemoglobin and neurological development can increase the risk for SIDS. Heat (i.e. over wrapping) and elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the blood exacerbate the effects of CO. Chronic CO exposure may significantly predispose an infant to an increased risk of SIDS.

An excerpt from “An Examination In The Role Of Chronic Carbon Monoxide Exposure In The Etiology Of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome”, by Tona E. Watson and Scott H. Watson. Nacogdoches, TX. Presented at the 5th Sudden Infant Death Syndrome International Conference. Rouen, France. April 20-23, 1998.