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Leaving Children in a Hot Car

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

It is SO HOT in many areas of the country and summer is just beginning. With extreme heat comes the concern for vehicular heatstroke among children who may be (inadvertently) left inside of a car.

One wonders how that could possibly happen, but in 2010 there were 49 deaths of children who were found inside of cars, and already in 2011 there are 23 deaths being reported. We continue to see record setting temperatures and there is plenty of summer still ahead. I’m writing this hoping that this tragedy can be averted.

As busy as parents are these days, it is still hard to fathom how a child can be left (usually in the back seat) inside of a parked car. With a sleeping child in a car seat, and a busy parent heading to work,  a meeting or even the grocery store, a parent may just “forget” that their child is with them. No noise, no reminder and the car is locked and left for minutes, hours or even the day, before someone returns to find the child who has succumbed to heat stroke. Horrific but true.

A child’s thermoregulatory system is different than adults and their body temperatures may warm at a rate 3-5 times faster than that of an adult. This means that even several minutes inside of a hot car (even with the windows cracked) may cause heatstroke and ultimately death. Remember that these deaths are due to hyperthermia and this different than 104 degree fever in a child with a viral illness. Fever and hyperthermia are NOT synonymous terms.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency.  If you ever come upon a child who has been left inside of a car, not only should you try to locate the driver of the car, but at the same time call 911. Minutes may matter when trying to resuscitate a victim of heatstroke. If the child is unresponsive begin CPR while waiting for the paramedics.

How can a parent be reminded that they have left a child in the car?  When routines change it seems accidents may happen. A different parent dropping off at day care, or taking a different route to work may be to blame as 51% of these deaths occurred when a child was forgotten in the car.

Make sure to leave yourself a reminder that you have your child in the back seat. Put the child’s toy or stuffed animal in the front seat to remind you that your child is there. At the same time leave your purse, car keys, cell phone, or briefcase in the back seat. By doing this you will immediately look in the back seat before locking and leaving the car.

A rear facing car seat (now recommended until age 2 years), may not allow you to visualize your child when glancing in the rear seat. Checking the back seat before locking the door should become a habit for every parent.

Lastly, 30% of vehicular heat strokes occurred when a child had been playing inside of an unattended vehicle. Make sure that your car is always locked after parking it in the driveway etc. Do not leave the windows down where a child might be able to climb in the car and then is not noticed. There are also reports of children dying after climbing into a car with an unlocked trunk. Lock all doors and trunks each time you leave the car!

Remember the adage “beat the heat, check the backseat”. These are tragic, yet preventable deaths.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Related Posts on www.kidsdr.com

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One Response to “Leaving Children in a Hot Car”

  1. grammar lesson says:

    When you use quotation marks for emphasis, as in parents who “forget,” you are actually implying the opposite (see: http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/). And periods and commas go inside quotation marks, unless you are in Canada or the UK. I love your posts, but the former teacher in me wants to get out my red pen.

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