‘Cot deaths’ linked to poor control of breathing and swallowing

April 1st, 2011 - 7:58 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 1 (ANI): Scientists from the Macquarie University in Sydney are one step closer to unearthing mysteries of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as ‘cot death’.

They found that it might be linked to poor control of breathing and swallowing.

The researchers identified two areas of the brain that work together to control breathing and swallowing to enable breathing without choking.

They hope that by understanding how these areas work, they can identify what may be going wrong in SIDS babies.

“Until now, the centres in the brain that coordinate breathing and swallowing were poorly understood, but our research has finally teased apart the two mechanisms in the brain, demonstrating how they work together in the presence of an irritant,” said lead author Prof Paul Pilowsky.

“If irritants such as food or water ‘go down the wrong way’ and enter the airway, a powerful protective response is initiated in the brain to stop breathing and prevent foreign matter entering the lungs. Abnormalities in this reflex may underlie a number of life threatening conditions, including SIDS,” he said.

This protective reflex brings the vocal chords together and initiates coughing and swallowing. It is vital to everyone, but babies in particular as they have a tendency to regurgitate liquids after feeding and saliva tends to pool in their throats.

It is also risky - without breathing, blood oxygen levels can drop to dangerously low levels, heart rate slows and blood is re-routed to the brain, depriving and potentially damaging other organs.

“The closing of the airway in adults is only a small compromise as breathing is only stopped temporarily. But for babies the response has more radical implications, particularly if breathing stops for a long time, as they can’t take in oxygen or get rid of carbon dioxide,” said Pilowsky.

“The timing of breathing and swallowing is exquisitely coordinated. We suspect that coordination of the two may be going awry in SIDS, but to be sure of this, we need to know how the brain organises this response in the first place,” he added.

The study has been published in The Journal of Physiology. (ANI)

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