One Doctor's Unusual Hope to Cure SIDS

An infant
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SIDS is the most common cause of infant death, outside of infants born with birth defects or as a result of complications from prematurity. The condition, which includes any infant death between one month and 12 months of age that can not be explained after a medical investigation, is one that continues to baffle the medical world and leave grieving parents everywhere longing for answers.

The CDC reports that 4,000 infants die from SIDS every year in the United States, a number that is troublingly high.

The organization also notes that "Even after a thorough investigation, it is hard to tell SIDS apart from other sleep-related infant deaths such as overlay or suffocation in soft bedding. While an observed overlay may be considered an explained infant death, no autopsy tests can tell for certain that suffocation is the cause of death."

Theories on what actually causes SIDS have ranged, although some doctors have speculated that there is some kind of genetic predisposition in a baby's brain, that combined with certain risk factors, such as overheating, stomach sleeping, or smoking in the home, can "trigger" the baby to stop breathing and pass away suddenly. However, the CDC states that health care professionals aren't sure of the exact cause of SIDS.

This Doctor Thinks He Has the Cure

But one doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital thinks that he is close to answering the question of what causes SIDS—and preventing infant deaths with one simple test.

Dr. Daniel Rubens is an anesthesiologist, but he has spent the last eleven years of life dedicated to researching SIDS, even founding the SIDS Research Guild to fund his studies and raise awareness about finding a cure.

Dr. Rubens believes that SIDS may be caused by something as simple as an inner-ear dysfunction and that somehow, the inner-ear damage causes the baby to not be able to detect when he/she needs to move and get fresh air, so the baby suffocates instead.

He based his theory off of a 2008 study that first pointed to the possibility of inner ear structural damage as a factor in SIDS and then coordinated his own research by looking at data from the Rhode Island Department of Health Infant Mortality Database for 31 babies born between 1993 and 2005 who had undergone newborn hearing screening and then died of SIDS.

Shockingly enough, Dr. Rubens and his team found that every single one of the babies had been found to have hearing loss in their right sides before they passed away. "“These babies have inner-ear damage, but they can’t tell you,”  Dr.Rubens told The Seattle Times. “They are too young to sit up. The baby has got a problem getting air.”

Support for His Theory

Other findings seem to support Dr. Rubens' theory. One team stated, "the inner ear appears to play an integral function in the ability to arouse and physically escape from suffocating gas mixtures" while another group plans to replicate the study in a larger group of babies.

Ultimately, Dr. Ruben hopes that all newborns, who are already screened for hearing problems before being discharged from the hospital, will receive more specialized hearing tests to screen for SIDS and that those babies with the inner ear dysfunctions will be treated appropriately.

Some in the medical community remain unconvinced about Dr. Ruben's theory and he has started his own website to try to raise money for future research.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

One Seattle Children’s Doctor Thinks He’s Close to Stopping SIDS. The Seattle Times. (April 5, 2015) .

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