Living Well: Protecting children from heat stroke
More than 20 children have died in hot cars across the United States this year. Last year, there were 52 hot car deaths.
Data shows that of the more than 800 child deaths in hot cars since 1998, about a quarter of them happened when the child gained access to the vehicle on their own. About 20 percent of the deaths happened when a caregiver knowingly left the child in the car, but more than half occurred when the child was forgotten in the car by a caregiver.
- Always check the back seat, and make sure all children are out of the car before locking it and walking away.
- Avoid distractions while driving, especially cell phone use.
- Be extra alert when there is a change in your routine, like when someone else is driving your child or you take a different route to work or child care.
- Have your child care provider call if your child is more than 10 minutes late.
- Put your cell phone, bag or purse in the back seat, so you check the back seat when you arrive at your destination.
- If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure he/she has arrived safely.
- Keep your car locked when it is parked to prevent a curious child from entering when no one is around. Many hot car deaths have occurred when a child mistakenly locks himself inside.
- Make sure children do not have easy access to your car keys. Store them out of a child’s reach.
- Teach children that cars are not safe places to play.
- Keep rear fold-down seats closed to prevent a child from crawling into the trunk from inside the car.
- Remind children that cars, especially car trunks, should not be used for games like hide-and-seek.
- Important Tip: If a child is missing, always check the pool first, and then the car, including the trunk!
The pediatric team at Memorial Regional Health consists of Dr. Linda Couillard, Board Certified Pediatrician, and Kevin Monahan, PA-C. To schedule an appointment for your child, call 970-826-2480.
It’s easy to read these headlines and judge the parent or parents for forgetting their child in the car, but parents suffer from exhaustion due to lack of sleep, stress and changes in their normal routine, according to KidsandCars.org, a national organization that advocates for child safety.
Any one of these factors can cause a parent or caretaker’s memory to fail at a time when it’s least expected.
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“Even the best of parents or caregivers can overlook a sleeping baby in a car,” according to Kids and Cars, “and the end result can be injury or even death.”
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, occurs when the body temperature rises to 105 degrees or higher, which causes neurological changes such as mental confusion or unconsciousness, according to Harvard Medical School.
“The extreme heat can affect internal organs, causing breakdown of the heart muscle cells and blood vessels, damage to internal organs and death,” according to Harvard.
In children, major organs begin to shut down when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees, and a child can die when body temperature reaches 107 degrees, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Because children’s thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult’s, their body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult’s, according to Noheatstroke.org, a project by San Jose State University.
How hot can a car get?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a car’s interior temperature can rise nearly 20 degrees within 10 minutes, even with a window cracked open. When temperatures outside are above 80 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172 degrees.
About 80 percent of the temperature rise in a parked car happens within the first 30 minutes. A 2005 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that a car’s interior temperature can rise about 40 degrees within one hour, even if it’s only 72 degrees outside. Cracking the windows open did not decrease this rate of temperature rise, either.
“Even at relatively cool ambient temperatures, the temperature rise in vehicles is significant on clear, sunny days and puts infants at risk for hyperthermia,” according to the study. “Vehicles heat up rapidly, with the majority of the temperature rise occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes. Leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature attained.”
Look before you lock
Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees, which means it’s never safe to leave a child — or a pet — in a car for any length of time.
Just like habits for daily tasks such as turning the lights off before you leave the house or locking your front door, try to form similar habits when getting out of your car.
Kidsandcars.org suggests parents and caregivers take the following steps in order to prevent heat stroke tragedies:
- Look before you lock and get into the habit of checking the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
- Put something you’ll need, like a cell phone or wallet, in the back seat.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is in the seat, place the animal in the front seat as a visual reminder that the child is in the car.
- Keep cars locked at all times and keep keys out of reach of children.
- Use drive-thru services when available and pay for gas at the pump.
If a child is missing, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests checking the pool first, and then the car — including the trunk.
“Protecting children is everyone’s business,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If you see an unattended child in a car and are concerned, you should immediately call 911.”
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