Now that summer has rolled around, the risk of heat stroke for children increases dramatically. Every year, children are tragically injured or lost when well-meaning, loving parents or caregivers leave a child in their car. Whether the child is left in the car when parents run in to the grocery store, go in to school to pick up a sibling, or the child gets into the car to play without the caregivers’ knowledge, the results can be equally heartbreaking. Last year in the US, 32 children died from heat stroke, with 75% of deaths occurring in the summer months. This is a loss of life that can be prevented, and we should make every effort to ensure that fewer children suffer the effects of heat stroke each and every year.
Recently, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Administration partnered with children’s hospitals and Safe Kids Worldwide to increase awareness on heat stroke and to dismantle many misconceptions. We often don’t realize just how quickly heat stroke can occur, especially in young children under the age of fouryears. With temperatures in the low 80s, heat stroke may develop in as little as ten minutes, even if the windows are rolled down a couple of inches. Children’s bodies overheat much more quickly than an adults’. Even if a child doesn’t die from heat stroke, a rapid rise in body temperature can result in permanent brain injury, hearing loss, blindness, and much more. The effects of heat stroke are devastating and can affect anyone.
Thankfully, there are many steps conscientious caregivers and parents can take to prevent heat stroke. If we all simply take a moment to think before stepping out of the car, we can save lives. Always look in the front and back seats to ensure that no child is left behind, and leave something you use often like a purse or briefcase next to the child seat to remind you to check. You can also easily leave a sticky note on the dashboard to remind yourself. Never leave a child unattended in the car, even if it doesn’t seem that hot, the windows are rolled down, or the engine is running. Finally, teach your children that the car is not a play place and keep the keys out of reach. These simple steps can prevent tragedy. As the Department of Transportation’s slogan goes, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.”
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Written collaboratively by Keri Register and Paul Smolen MD