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Potentially dangerous sleeping environments and accidental asphyxia in infancy and early childhood.
  1. R W Byard,
  2. S Beal,
  3. A J Bourne
  1. Department of Histopathology, Adelaide Children's Hospital, Australia.


    Infants and young children may be exposed to a variety of dangerous situations when left sleeping in cots, chairs, or beds. A review of 30 cases of accidental asphyxia occurring in infants and young children who had been left to sleep unattended was undertaken from the necropsy and consultation files of the Adelaide Children's Hospital. Causes of death included hanging from loose restrainers, clothing, or a curtain cord (12 cases), positional asphyxia/wedging from slipping between a mattress and bed/cot sides or wall, or from moving into a position where the face was covered and the upper airway occluded (16 cases), and suffocation from plastic bed covers (two cases). Cases of co-sleeping in bed with an adult and of non-accidental asphyxia were not included in this review. As the pathological findings were on occasion identical to those that are typically found in sudden infant death syndrome, adequate death scene examination was vital in several cases to allow identification of lethal sleeping environments and to enable steps to be taken to minimise the risk of future deaths due to similar situations. For example, two cases in which infants asphyxiated in rocking cradles led to the investigation of the cradles and to formulation of specific safety recommendations regarding the angle of tilt. Two infants who died after becoming wedged between the back of a couch and a co-sleeping parent in one case and cushions in the other, would indicate that this also represents a potentially lethal sleeping position. Other dangerous situations involved infant car seat restraints, seats with loose harnesses, cots with movable sides or projecting pieces, thin plastic mattress/pillow coverings, and beds with spaces between the mattress and cot side or wall. Lack of supervision at the time of death was a feature of each case.

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