Researcher leader Kimberly Coleman-Phox and her colleagues at Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research in Oakland, California, say that inadequate room ventilation might facilitate the pooling of carbon dioxide around an infant's nose and mouth, increasing the likelihood of rebreathing.
In their study report, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the researchers say that the movement of air in the room may potentially reduce the risk of SIDS.
For their study, the group analysed information from interviews of mothers of 185 infants who had died from SIDS and mothers of 312 randomly selected infants from the same county, maternal race/ethnicity and age.
The interviewees were asked about fan use, pacifier use, open window in the room at the infant's last sleep, room location, sleep surface, number and type of covers over the infant, bedding under the infant and room temperature.
The researchers observed that having a fan on during sleep was associated with a 72 percent reduction in SIDS risk, compared to sleeping in a room without a fan.
They said that fan use in warmer room temperatures (above 21 degrees Celcius) was associated with a 94 percent decreased risk of SIDS, compared with no fan use.
According to them, fan use also appeared to decrease the risk of SIDS in infants who slept in the prone or side position, shared a bed with someone other than their parents or did not use a pacifier.
"In this study, the frequency of fan use was similar in young and less educated women as in other women; thus, fan use can be easily adopted by these populations," the authors say.
"Although improving the methods used to convey the importance of the supine sleep position remains paramount, use of a fan in the room of a sleeping infant may be an easily available means of further reducing SIDS risk that can be readily accepted by care providers from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds," they add.