By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
Hot weather is coming. Every year, there are new reports of children dying after being left in hot cars.
The inside of a car can heat up very quickly — even when the temperature outdoors is mild. On an especially hot day, the interior of a car can heat up to 122 degrees in less than 20 minutes; within 40 minutes, it can get so hot that a child left inside a car for that length of time can die.
Many parents think that leaving a window of the car open slightly will keep the temperature lower, but fail to realize it will still remain too hot in the car for the child.
Young children, especially infants, are more sensitive to heat than adults because their bodies do not regulate temperature as well as an adult’s body does. A child left in a hot car can suffer from heat stress, dehydration and shock.
Heat stress occurs when sweat cannot evaporate quickly enough to keep the body cool. Symptoms of heat stress include muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting
Heat stress can lead to dehydration because of fluid loss because of excess sweating. To go into shock means that the body’s blood pressure gets too low to pump oxygenated blood to all of the tissues in the body and cells in major organs, such as the brain, heart, liver and kidneys can die and the organs can be permanently damaged.
• Never leave a child alone in a car — even with the windows down. Take your child inside with you rather than leaving them in a running vehicle. Parents can be charged with negligence and child endangerment in Texas for leaving a child alone in a car, even if it is running.
• Teach your children not to play in or around cars.
• Lock car doors when you exit them and keep your keys out of your child’s reach.
• Double-check to make sure that everyone has exited the car when you arrive at your destination. It’s worth looking twice to make sure that you have removed your child from the car, especially if you have other items to carry inside. Though this may seem silly, please remember that children have died because they had fallen asleep in their car seats and their parents did not realize that they were still in the car.
• Carry plenty of water when traveling with children.
• If your car has been parked outside on a hot day, consider placing a towel on the car seat so it does not burn your child; consider purchasing window shades for both the front and rear windows of the car. Also, make sure that restraints, such as buckles on a car seat, are not too hot.
• Keep your car’s trunk locked at all times so that a child does not crawl inside and get trapped.
• Keep rear seats that fold down upright to ensure that your child does not crawl from the passenger area into the trunk.
• Teach older children how to unlock the door of a car if they become trapped inside.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.