Children are at risk of death from being left in hot cars; health officials say don’t do it in any circumstances, offer prevention tips

Every summer, children die from heat stroke because they are unintentionally left in a hot car, with the majority of these deaths occurring in children age 3 and under The latest reported victim was a 1-year-old girl in Nashville who was accidentally left inside a hot car May 23.

According to the safety organization Kids and Cars, 37 children a year die in hot cars. These include instances of children being forgotten, accidentally locking themselves in a car or trunk, or in a small number of cases, intentionally left in a car.

“Infants and small children are not able to regulate their body temperature in the same way that adults do,” Dr. Heather Felton, medical director of the University of Louisville Pediatrics – Sam Swope Kosair Charities Centre, said in a U of L news release. “Sweating won’t cool down an infant or young child in the same way that it does an adult, and children may not be able to extract themselves from a car seat or remove clothing to help their bodies adjust.”

A new study out of Arizona State University and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, published in the science journal Temperature, found that it takes about an hour for a child left in a hot car to suffer heatstroke, an average of 80 minutes in a sunny car to kill a child, and a little under two hours for a 2-year-old’s body to reach a core temperature of greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a degree from which a body cannot cool down,” Dr. Sima Patel reports for ABC News. Patel notes that in reality, different children reach hyperthermia at different times, based on the climate, child’s size, clothing, ethnicity and age.

“I don’t think our study can address the overall ‘risk’ of heatstroke because that depends on human behavior and actions more than anything,” Jennifer Vanos, lead study author told ABC.  “All cars heat up to lethal temperatures across every state, and although it’s the level of heat that in the end causes the death, it’s the act of forgetfulness that is the trigger. Deaths have occurred in not-so-hot states as well. And even though parking in the shade decrease the heart rate of the child’s core temperature, the risk of death is likely the same as if parking in the sun.”

Felton offers these American Academy of Pediatrics-endorsed tips for parents when traveling in a car with infants or young children:

  • The inside of a car can reach dangerous temperatures quickly, even when the outside temperature is not hot. Never leave a child alone in a car, even if you expect to come back soon.
  • Always check the back seat to make sure all children are out of the car when you arrive at your destination.
  • Avoid distractions while driving, especially cell phone use.
  • Be especially aware of kids in the car when there is a change from the routine such as someone else is driving them in the morning, or you take a different route to work or child care.
  • Have your childcare provider call if your child has not arrived within 10 minutes of the expected arrival time.
  • Place your cell phone, bag or purse, or shoes in the back seat, so you are reminded to check the back seat when you arrive at your destination.
  •  Lock your car when it is parked so children cannot get in without supervision.
  • Drink plenty of water and have your children drink plenty of water when temperatures soar.
  • Plan for extra rest time – heat and a change from the normal routine leaves kids and parents feeling tired.
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