Thursday, July 11, 2019

Heat Safety Tips: Child Heat Stroke/Car Deaths

By Angela Moemeka, MD
Pediatrics, Coppell
Member, Texas Medical Association

It’s summertime in Texas again. School is out, pools and lakes are calling, ice cream and barbecues fill the lazy days, fireworks light up the sky, and teens are getting out of bed just in time for a late lunch. Yes, those are the best elements of summer when you’re a child. Unfortunately, summer also comes with risks for kids in Texas. Our extreme temperatures make heatstroke a grim reality, and Texas boasts the highest number of child car deaths from heatstroke, followed by Florida and California.  Several children in Texas died this way in recent weeks. These tragic hot car deaths are preventable.

It takes only a few minutes in a hot car for a child’s core temperature to rise to dangerous levels that can lead to heatstroke and even death. Temperatures inside a car, even with a window cracked open, can rise as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the first 10 minutes. Think of that on a day when it’s already blazing at 90 or 100 degrees! Children left unattended in parked cars, even when it feels relatively cool outside, are at greatest risk of heatstroke and hot car deaths.

What is heatstroke and what can you do to help a child with heatstroke?
Heatstroke is a medical emergency caused by exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms, which can begin within minutes, include:

Temperatures inside a car, even with a window cracked open,
can rise as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the first 10 minutes.
Photo by Brent Annear
·         Hot, red skin;
·         Fast, strong pulse;
·         Headache;
·         Dizziness;
·         Nausea; and
·         Losing consciousness (passing out).

If you find someone in this condition, call 911 immediately and move the child to a cooler place. Apply cool cloths to exposed skin, armpits, forehead, and neck to help lower the core temperature. If able, give a cool bath. Do not give the child anything to drink.

The best medicine is to avoid heatstroke and heat-related illness altogether. There are three important ways to do this:

1.      Keep children hydrated with cool, nonsugary drinks.
2.      Apply sunscreen to children and dress them in loose, lightweight clothing when outdoors.
3.      Do not leave children and infants in parked cars.

Hot car deaths often occur because a distracted adult forgets the child is in the car, sometimes because he or she is napping when the adult gets out of the car. Advocacy groups like offer several safety tips to remind adults to take the child out of a parked car to a cooler location, to avoid these deaths:

·         Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat, then move the stuffed animal to the front seat when your child is in the car seat to remind you of your rear passenger.
·         Place your work bag/purse in the back seat. The idea is to have unavoidable reasons to look in the back seat.

Congress also is taking steps to prevent heatstroke deaths. Just this month, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Hot Cars Act of 2019 (H.R. 3593), legislation that, if passed, would have vehicles equipped with technology that alerts the driver when a car is turned off with someone still in the back seat. (The U.S. Senate introduced its version of the bill (S. 1601) in May.)

As parents and caregivers, we want kids to have safe, healthy summers with fun memories to last a lifetime. This often means busy schedules filled with camps, activities, vacations, and family outings. Taking the careful steps to prevent heat-related injury and death should be woven into every summertime experience. The little things we do to keep kids hydrated and cool during these hot Texas summer days will go a long way.

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