A review of the anatomy of the upper airway in early infancy and its possible relevance to SIDS

Early Hum Dev. 2002 Feb;66(2):107-21. doi: 10.1016/s0378-3782(01)00242-0.


Background: Since the danger of prone sleeping in the first 6 months of life has been publicised, there has been a dramatic and consistent reduction in the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, unexpected infant deaths and apparent life-threatening events (ALTEs) continue to occur that are clearly not associated with known epidemiological risk factors.

Aims: To review the unique features of the anatomy and function of the upper airway of the young infant which contribute to increased vulnerability to hypoxia in this age group. We discuss the clinical identification of those infants at risk of obstruction or restriction of the upper airway and the management of the 'at risk' infant.

Conclusions: In the era after the "back to sleep" campaigns, it is likely that an increasing proportion of cases of ALTEs and SIDS will be related to obstruction or limitation of upper airway size leading to sleep hypoxia/asphyxia. This type of problem may be anticipated by evaluation and investigation of infants with signs or a clinical history consistent with possible upper respiratory tract compromise, including micrognathia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / etiology
  • Infant
  • Larynx / anatomy & histology
  • Micrognathism / pathology
  • Respiratory System / anatomy & histology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*
  • Tongue / anatomy & histology
  • Trachea / anatomy & histology