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Some experts tie apnea to sudden infant death

Children considered at highest risk for SIDS, include those with a history of "near-miss" episodes, as well as siblings of SIDS victims and premature infants with symptoms of apnea.

A 2-month-old baby stopped breathing one night and started turning blue. As soon as the parents picked him up, he started breathing again. The doctor said it was infantile apnea.

Apnea is the interruption of breathing, and it can occur in adults or infants. Some researchers believe that infantile apnea is responsible for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the leading cause of death in children under 1 year of age, and strikes apparently healthy infants.

Instances like what happened above are referred to as "near-miss SIDS" by these scientists, but no definite relationship between SIDS and infantile apnea has been proven.

But there are other reasons why an infant could stop breathing. These include:

-- An upper-airway obstruction

-- Pneumonia, meningitis or another infection

-- A heart irregularity (such as a slow heartbeat)

-- Metabolic problems (such as low blood sugar)

-- Seizures

-- Gastroesophageal reflux (when previously swallowed food comes back up)

-- Feeding-induced hypoventilation (slowed breathing after eating)

It has been estimated that disorders such as these, which can usually be treated, are responsible for 25 percent of apneic episodes in infants. The rest are referred to as idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.

Unfortunately, as many as two-thirds of infants with idiopathic apnea will have recurrent episodes. Your physician will probably try to determine if there is an underlying (and treatable) cause by doing numerous tests, such as chest X-rays, a neurologic exam, blood counts and electrocardiograms.

Children who've had an apneic episode are often evaluated in a hospital, where their heart and respiratory rates can be monitored during sleep, and immediate resuscitation is available if needed.

Unless a cause is found for apnea, it cannot really be treated. Certain medications, such as theophylline, may be given to some children (especially premature infants and those with abnormal pneumograms, a measurement of breathing patterns) to stimulate breathing. The amount of oxygen in the blood is decreased because of the earlier pause in breathing.

Time often takes care of the problem. Apneic episodes occur most often in infants aged 1 to 4 months, becoming less frequent after that age.

Doctors concluded that apparently mild, prematurity-related apnea is dangerously aggravated by the respiratory virus.


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