Kids Die, But Shouldn’t, When Left Alone inside Cars That Overheat

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Photo: KidsandCars.org

 

We’ve all heard the warnings/cautions: Don’t leave kids or pets in cars when temperatures are high. Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in  children, says that every eight days a child dies from heatstroke from being left in a car that got too hot. That’s inexcusable, and totally preventable, the group says.

Sometimes parents forget little ones are in the car if the kids have fallen asleep. Other times, people think they just have to go into a store for a few minutes. But, young children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adults, Safe Kids Worldwide says.

Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle related deaths among children, the group noted.

To protect young children from dying of heatstroke in a car, parents and other caregivers need to remember to “ACT.”

  • Avoid heat stroke by never leaving children alone in a car, not even for a minute. Always lock your car when you’re not in it so children don’t get in on their own.
  • Create reminders that your child is in the car by putting something next to your child in the back seat, such as a briefcase, purse or cell phone that you’ll need when you arrive at your destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your usual routine.
  • Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Doing so could save a life.

The alarm to parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a car sounded louder during a week in 2012 after three more children died of heatstroke in cars. As summer temperatures reach record highs across the country, as tey are doing again this year, these preventable tragedies remind us to be even more vigilant to prevent heatstroke from killing another child.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under the age of 14. Since 1998, 545 children across the United States have died in cars from heatstroke, including 18 children this year.

More than half of these deaths occur when a driver forgets that the child is in the car. Experts will tell you this can happen to anybody. Our busy lifestyles create enough stress to trigger mental “lapses,” which can bury a thought and cause your brain to go on autopilot. The lapses can affect something as simple as misplacing your keys or something as crucial as forgetting a baby.

Almost 30 percent of the time, children get into a car on their own. Kids love to pretend they’re driving. They find a way into the car, but sometimes, they can’t find a way out.

The third scenario is when someone intentionally leaves a child alone in a car. A parent might be running an errand and think, “The baby just fell asleep. I’ll just be gone for a second.” But seconds turn into minutes, and before you know it, the temperature inside of the car has reached lethal levels.

Many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more, as it has been in many places around the country this summer. And cracking the window doesn’t help.

Heatstroke sets in when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough. Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. When that child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die. Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. These tragedies can happen anytime, anywhere.

Two years ago, 49 children died in cars from heatstroke. Last year, one of the hottest years on record, we lost 33 children. Losing one child is one too many.

‘Bounce Houses’ Pose Heat-Injury Risks

 

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Sometimes, something that is dramatically obvious easily escapes notice. Example: How many fair-, festival- or party-goers consider the fact that ‘bounce houses’, inflatable enclosures popular at such events, where kids can jump and bounce, are ‘heat traps’ comparable to the closed car where thinking people never leave children or pets?

Jumping around in a bounce house when the ambient temperature is close to or in the ‘90’s (32-37° C) can put bouncers at risk for serious heat-related illnesses, a recent article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society reported.

“Many parents are unaware of the potential heat dangers of these bounce houses,” said Andrew Grundstein, co-author of a recent study on this issue, and a professor of geography at the University of Georgia. “I have young children and let them play in bounce houses, but until this project I did not really think about the heat hazards. I was more worried about sprains and fractures from an accident.”

Grundstein and his colleagues conducted their investigation one afternoon in July 2015 using a bounce house set up on the university campus in Athens. Over a five-hour period, the scientists recorded air temperatures inside the bounce house that were consistently higher than temperatures outside the structure.

With an average temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33.3° C) inside the bounce house, interior heat levels were almost 4 degrees greater than the outside temperature in shade. Peak temperatures that climbed above 100 degrees in the structure were almost 7 degrees higher than outside, the researchers said.

Investigators also measured the heat index, which is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. Heat index temperatures averaged almost 104 degrees (40° C) inside the play house — or more than 7 degrees above the heat index level outside. The highest heat index temperature recorded inside the inflatable was 117 degrees (47.2° C) — more than 8 degrees hotter than the heat index level outside, the study found.

The heat index in the bounce house reached levels where serious heat-related injuries such as heat exhaustion, muscle cramps and heatstroke were possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity, the research team wrote.

Grundstein said the researchers only found one report about a child suffering heatstroke in a bounce house — in Texas in 2013. But “we suspect it may happen more often and may not be reported,” he said.

Children are especially vulnerable to high temperatures, the researchers noted. Recently updated research from Jan Null, of the meteorology department at San Jose State University, shows nearly 700 U.S. children have died of heatstroke since 1998 because they were enclosed in hot vehicles.

“Typically, reported accidents [related to bounce houses] are from falls and installation,” said Dr. Allison Stakofsky, an attending pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

In 2010, U.S. emergency rooms treated 31 children a day on average for bounce house-related injuries, a study published in Pediatrics in 2012 reported. Most suffered fractures, sprains or strains.

“This new research highlights another safety concern,” said Stakofsky. “Extreme heat can cause sickness in kids in many different ways. Every year, children die from heat-related illness, but it can be prevented.”

She recommended that parents try to prevent overheating by offering their children liquids frequently, before they complain of thirst.

Also, children should dress in loose, lightweight clothing in hot weather, and take extra time to rest, Stakofsky suggested.

Grundstein advised parents to closely watch their kids for signs of overheating.