One of the most terrifying things about sudden infant death syndrome — aside from the fact that it's the cause of 4,000 deaths every year in the US — is that we still don't know exactly why or how it happens.
A pediatric anesthesiologist at Seattle Children's Hospital, however, might be close to a discovery. After 11 years of research, Dr. Daniel Rubens is testing a hypothesis that SIDS could be related to an undetected inner-ear dysfunction that makes it difficult for a baby to automatically rouse and reposition itself when it's having trouble breathing.
"These babies have inner-ear damage, but they can't tell you," Rubens told The Seattle Times. "They are too young to sit up. The baby has got a problem getting air."
His research is in line with a Rhode Island Department of Health study that found in a test group of 31 babies who died from SIDS, all scored lower across three different sound frequencies in the right ear.
Not only does Rubens believe he knows the cause, but he thinks he also has the cure . . . or at least a relatively simple way to prevent it.
A specific hearing test performed on babies within 48 hours of birth could detect the unique hearing discrepancy that puts certain babies at risk for SIDS, he explained. Then, those babies would undergo a more thorough clinical exam within their first month of life.
For now, he's working to raise enough funds to conduct the necessary research. His motivation is simple: "It's so helpless for the parents. And I can't walk away from it."