Journal Club: Using a fan reduces SIDS risk

December 1, 2008

The risk of sudden infant death syndrome may be reduced with the presence of a turned-on fan in the infant's room.

Turning on a fan in a sleeping infant's room may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), particularly when the infant is in a poor sleep environment.

Investigators collected data about the last sleep of 185 infants who died from SIDS, and similar information about the sleep environment of 312 randomly selected infants. In addition to querying parents about fan use, investigators asked if windows were open, and about other characteristics of the sleep environment. They then examined the relationship between room ventilation at last sleep and risk of SIDS after adjustment for potential confounders, such as sociodemographic characteristics, maternal prenatal history, and infant medical history.

Having a fan on in the infant's room during sleep was associated with a 72% reduction in the risk of SIDS compared with sleeping in a room without a fan. The effect of fan use on SIDS risk reduction was consistently greater when infants were in adverse sleep environments. This included being in a room that was warm or had closed windows, sleeping prone or on their sides, sharing a bed with someone other than a parent, and not using a pacifier-all facilitators for rebreathing exhaled carbon dioxide, a possible mechanism for SIDS. Sleeping in a room with an open window also was associated with reduced SIDS risk, but the association was not statistically significant (Coleman-Phox K et al: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2008;162:963).

This is the first report indicating that use of a fan in an infant's room may decrease the risk of SIDS. It will need to be confirmed in further study. In the meantime, I can't see any downside in suggesting to parents that they put their babies to bed on their backs, with a binkie, by themselves, and, now, with a breeze.

Dr. Burke, section editor for Journal Club, is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore. He is a contributing editor for Contemporary Pediatrics. He has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with, or financial interests in, any organization that may have an interest in any part of this article.