Last Updated: 2008-10-06 16:00:34 -0400 (Reuters Health)

Using a fan in babies’ rooms with inadequate ventilation appears to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to a report in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Rebreathed carbon dioxide has been hypothesized to play a causative role in SIDS. Therefore, by allowing pooling of the gas around an infant’s nose and mouth during sleep, inadequate ventilation may increase the risk of SIDS.

To determine if enhanced ventilation could reduce the risk, Dr. De-Kun Li and colleagues conducted a population-based case-control study involving 185 infants with SIDS and 312 matched unaffected infants. Data regarding fan use and other aspects of the sleep environment were obtained via interviews with the infants’ mothers.

Use of a fan during sleep was linked to a 72% reduction in SIDS risk (i.e., an adjusted odds ratio of 0.28), report Dr. Li and associates, from Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland.

Further study showed that the benefits of fan use were most pronounced in adverse sleep environments, such as in warmer rather than in cooler rooms (OR = 0.06 vs. 0.77) or when a window was closed rather than open (OR = 0.15 vs. 0.73).

Fans also provided greater benefits for infants who slept in the prone or side position rather than supine (OR = 0.14 vs. 0.84), the position recommended by the "Back to Sleep" campaign that started in 1994. Likewise, the risk reduction was increased for infants who shared a bed with a non-parent than with a parent (OR = 0.15 vs. 0.40).

The authors found that fan use only reduced the risk of SIDS in infants who were not using pacifiers. Prior research has linked pacifier use with a decreased risk of SIDS, the report indicates.

"Although improving the methods used to convey the importance of the supine sleep position remains paramount, use of a fan in the room of a sleeping infant may be an easily available means of further reducing SIDS risk that can be readily accepted by care providers from a variety of social and cultural background," Dr. Li’s team states.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2008;162:963-968.