Imagine if a simple hearing test could prevent SIDS. A test taken just after birth that could save dozens of babies’ lives in Australia alone each year, and give parents much-needed peace of mind. Sounds wonderful, right? And it may not be as far off as you might think.
US paediatric anaesthetist and researcher Daniel Rubens says babies who die from SIDS have been found to have a hearing problem in their right inner-ear – and he hopes that finding will lead to the development of a newborn screening test.
Dr Rubens, who has been researching SIDS since 2002, says the inner-ear problem makes it difficult for babies to automatically reposition themselves to get fresh air when they have trouble breathing.
“These babies have inner-ear damage, but they can’t tell you,” Dr Rubens tells the Seattle Times. “They are too young to sit up. The baby has got a problem getting air.”
A Rhode Island Department of Health study on infant hearing found that 31 babies who died of SIDS scored lower on three different sound frequencies in the right ear. One post-mortem on four of the babies found they had bleeding and extensively damage in their inner ear.
Dr Rubens replicated the one-sided inner ear damage in mice, in a study that found they could not move their heads to take a breath when their oxygen levels were low. He is starting a more comprehensive study involving 100 British babies who died from SIDS and 400 healthy infants.
Dr Rubens, who completed his medical training at the University of New South Wales, is pushing for more research into a hearing test for babies within 48 hours of birth. It would detect the hearing issue that puts babies at risk for SIDS.
“It’s so helpless for the parents,” Dr Rubens tells the Seattle Times. “And I can’t walk away from it.”