Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Health Care and Hot Cars

During the summer and other especially warm days during the year, the weather, humidity, and sun light can heat up the inside of your car to an amazingly hot temperature. Unfortunately, every year the news stations tell tragic stories of children and pets who are left inside a locked vehicle for several hours during the heat of the day, and the results are most often deadly. According to ABCNews.com, the temperature in a closed car can rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes and 43 degrees in an hour, so even cooler days present risks. From 1998 through 2009, 51 percent of the deaths involved children forgotten in cars, 30 percent were children playing in unattended vehicles, and 18 percent were intentionally left in cars.

According to GGWeather.com, here are some scary statistics:
--Heatstroke occurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed - Symptoms include : dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, hallucinations.
--A core body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal as cells are damaged and internal organs shut down.
--Children's thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult's and their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation and are warmed little. However, according to GGWeather.com, this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees F. These objects (e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, childseat) heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle. “Cracking” the windows have little effect. Vehicle interior color is probably the biggest factor. Parents and other caregivers need to be educated that a vehicle is not a babysitter or play area ... but it can easily become tragedy.

It wouldn't seem like you would need to warn people about leaving kids alone in a car, especially during the heat of the summer, but it seems like every week there are new reports of kids dying after being left in a hot car, according to KeepKidsHealthy.com. Why are kids left in hot cars?

Often it is an 'accident', either by a parent or other caregiver. One report in Dallas involved a toddler who died after being left in a van after daycare workers forgot him there after a field trip. Another case, fortunately with the kids being found before they were injured, involved a mother who left her two kids in a closed car while she went grocery shopping. Other cases have involved parents who forget to drop their kids off at daycare and leave them in a hot car while they go to work. And already this year, there are reports of kids being left in hot cars in Utah and California, in addition to the cases in Texas.

So don't leave your kids alone in a car. It sounds simple, but it happens all too often. Even if you are just running into a store or to see a friend for a few minutes, don't leave your kids in the car, according to KeepKidsHealthy.com. When you get home from shopping or from a trip, get your kids in the house and then worry about unpacking the car. If you leave your kids in the car while you go inside first, it is easy to get distracted and forget they are still in the car. Maybe the phone rings, or the dishwasher is overflowing, or something else happens to distract you. If your kids are in daycare and they take younger kids on field trips or pick the child up from your home, make sure that they have a good plan to make sure kids aren't left in the car or van. Do they count the kids? Does somebody check the vehicle after everyone is unloaded?

Some parents may not want to take their child in and out of their cumbersome car seat for what they believe will be a quick stop at the dry cleaner, others may actually forget that their sleeping child is in the back seat, and sometimes children lock themselves in a car by accident, according to WebMD.com. Preventing hot car casualties starts with these steps:

1.) No Exceptions, No Matter How Brief--It is never OK to leave kids or pets in a car -- even with the windows down. Your car is a greenhouse and temperatures can get exceedingly hot in an exceedingly short period of time. We are talking minutes. Kids are more susceptible and at higher risk for heat-related illness and injury than adults because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and their abilities to cool through sweating are not as developed as adults.

2.) Know What Can Go Wrong--Parents leave children in a car for lack of understanding about how sick they can get and how quickly they can get sick. On a day that is just 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70% of this increase occurs the first 30 minutes. As previously stated, heat stroke may occur when body temperature passes 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

3.) Get Involved--If you see something, say something.

4.) Remind Yourself--Some parents or caregivers may forget that there is a sleeping child in the back seat and go about their business. The memory is faced with a challenge when it needs to remember something that you don’t do every day, such as take your child to school. For instance, maybe Mom usually does that, but for some reason, Dad takes the task for the day. If the child has fallen asleep in their car seat, which is usually behind the driver’s seat, there is no visual information to remind you that there is a kid to drop off; and if you have not done it day in and day out, you need a cue. These are not bad parents, but people who don’t have a good understanding of their memory system. What can you do? Give yourself reminders. Keep telling yourself, out loud, to remember the child. And give yourself visual cues. For example, place your briefcase beside your child so you must grab it before going to work, and will see your child. Or put your diaper bag on the seat next to you, so that you're reminded that you have the child with you.

5.) Prevent Kids From Wandering Into the Car--Don't let your children play in your car, make sure the car's doors and trunk are locked when you're not using it, and keep the keys out of kids' reach. That may help prevent children from getting accidentally locked in the car.

6.) Check That They Arrived--If your children take school buses or other modes of transportation, make sure that the transportation company follows established safety protocols, such as a bus driver walking through the bus to make sure no child is left onboard at the end of the route. And call to make sure your child arrives as expected, if you are not there to greet your child.

In addition to kids being left in cars, they can also get trapped in a hot car if they get into the car by themselves, according to KeepKidsHealthy.com. Locking your car, especially the trunk, and securing your car keys out of your child's reach can help to prevent these injuries. Many children climb into unlocked vehicles without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge, according to NHTSA.gov. Once in the car, they may become confused by the door handle’s configuration and be unable to open the door from the inside. Also, children may accidentally lock doors by leaning on a power control device and be unable to get out. In warm weather, a vehicle can warm to dangerous, life-threatening levels in only 10 minutes.

What happens to people who leave a child alone in a car on a warm day? Well, according to KeepKidsHealthy.com, in addition to possibly losing their child, they are likely to face charges over the incident. What if you see a child alone in a hot car? Call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. Don't waste time looking for the parent.

Remember, children are your most precious cargo, and they deserve your utmost attention all the time. They look to parents and caregivers to keep them safe. A hot car is not. The memory of a child lost due to death in a hot vehicle will haunt you forever. Be safe, not sorry.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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