By Lisa Ryan, MD
On average, 38 children die each year of heat stroke as a result of being in a car unattended. Heat stroke is the leading cause of all non-crash related car fatalities in children under 14.
Due to a smaller surface area, children respond to heat differently than adults. A child’s body temperature can rise at a rate five times faster than an adult’s. When the outside temperature is only 80F, the temperature inside a car can rise to over 125F within 60 minutes. If the temperature outside is 93F, the car can reach a temperature of 125F in 20 minutes. These temperatures quickly raise a child’s body temperature. Heat stroke occurs when a child’s body temperature rises above 105F. The child is no longer able to regulate her own temperature and brain damage, organ damage or death can occur quickly.
Sadly, 52 percent of deaths are the result of a child being forgotten in the car by a caregiver. It happens most frequently when there are changes in routines and schedules. It can happen to anyone. Simple steps can be taken to prevent tragedy.
- Always check the back seat before locking the car.
- Leave something you need like a purse, briefcase or cell phone on the floor of the back seat.
- Arrange with your child’s day care to contact you if your child does not arrive on time.
- Keep a stuffed animal or other visual reminder in your child’s seat when it is not occupied. Move the object to the front passenger seat after placing your child in the car. Whenever you see the object, you will remember a child is in the back seat.
- Never leave your child alone in the car; not even for a minute.
- Teach your children never to play in parked cars.
- Keep your parked car locked.
If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 immediately. If the child appears to be in distress, get him out of the car as quickly as possible and cool him rapidly, ideally with cool water.
For more information, visit St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s web page on Sophie’s KISS (Keeping Infants Safe and Secure). The program is in memory of Sophie, an infant who died from heat stroke after being unintentionally left in her parents’ car. Sophie’s Kiss provides parents with tips on how to prevent heat stroke and a memory device to keep in the car.
Lisa Ryan, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at Way to Grow Pediatrics in O’Fallon, Missouri. Dr. Ryan is on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Progress West Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She is a member of BJC Medical Group.