New light has been shed on how a baby's temperature can cause cot death, following findings by scientists funded by medical charity Action Research. This comes just a week after controversy around comments by Professor Sir Roy Meadow which suggested that some 'cot deaths' may actually be the result of parental abuse.
Professor George du Boulay at the Institute of Neurology, London, has discovered that blood being circulated to the brain is cooled by the proximity of incoming air passing through the throat and windpipe. If a baby is breathing air that is too warm, the blood may not be sufficiently cooled, leading to overheating of the brain, possible brain damage and even death. Professor du Boulay's work is featured in The New Scientist, Vol 161, issue 2169.
Professor du Boulay said: "It is extraordinary, but nobody has ever noticed before how cool the carotid blood [flowing to the brain] is - often two degrees Celsius cooler than the blood in the rest of the body. If a baby is already warmly wrapped and the face is very close to a warm and possibly moist mattress in a poorly ventilated part of the cot, then the air the baby breathes in may also be quite warm."
The charity has funded earlier work into this condition and Action Researcher Dr Peter Flemming investigated a link with temperature and cot death.
This provides the first explanation for the well-known principles for avoiding cot death: Do not sleep your baby on his front, keep your baby cool and do not smoke near your baby. Professor du Boulay's work could have a profound effect on further research aimed at understanding and preventing cot death.
In a separate study Action Research doctors are investigating the link between cot death and allergies. Anne Luther, Director General of Action Research, commented: "Cot death is a condition which we are learning about all the time. Incidences have halved over the last ten years but it still affects around 10 babies a week and Action Research continues to be committed to funding vital research into its cause and prevention."
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