As air conditioners fight to keep things cool, the recent string of triple-digit heat serves as a stark reminder that extreme temperatures present serious dangers to our health.
In certain environments, as is the case of parked vehicles in direct sunlight, the sweltering heat can even be life threatening especially for children and pets. Fortunately, following a few tips and using a bit of common sense, these types of injuries and deaths can be avoided.
As the sun bears down on cars and trucks, the windows act like a greenhouse, allowing sunlight in, while trapping and radiating heat inside the vehicle.
Even on mild days, where outside temperatures are in the 60’s and 70’s, the interior can reach temperatures of around 110 degrees. However, when outside temps are near or above 100 degrees, a vehicle can literally turn into a full-blown oven reaching temps of around 130 degrees in as little as 20 minutes to above 170 degrees within an hour.
Even when windows are partially rolled down, temperatures will continue to climb to dangerous levels, leaving anything and anyone within it subject to serious harm.
Left inside a vehicle, it only takes a short period of time before the intense heat begins to impact the body’s ability to regulate a safe core temperature.
With normal body temperatures ranging between 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit, as the core temperature exceeds 100 degrees and rises, at a certain point the body can no longer compensate and can lead to serious trouble. Without getting to a cooler, safer environment, the severity of harm can escalate from heat cramps, to heat exhaustion, to a full-blown medical emergency of heat stroke.
Heat cramps begin after profuse, heavy sweating. With a significant loss of fluids and electrolytes this results in muscle cramping, particularly in the legs and abdomen and many times can induce nausea.
Without access to water to hydrate and replenish fluids, the body will continue to heat up, past 102 degrees, leading to heat exhaustion resulting in muscle weakness, fading pulse, vomiting, dizziness, and even fainting.
At this stage, the body can still get back to a normal temp, but only if immediate action is taken. If not, it progresses toward the most serious and even fatal heat stroke.
As the body enters a temp of 104 to a lethal 108 degrees, it begins to shut down. Organs begin to fail and the body can no longer function properly. Even with emergency medical treatment, individuals suffering a heat stroke can have permanent organ failure, brain damage, or even die from the prolonged heat exposure.
Unfortunately, the majority of deaths attributed to heat exposure from being left too long in vehicles are young children and pets.
Neither have the capacity to remove themselves from dangerous situations and rely on others to protect them from harm’s way.
But not all children who die in this manner where left there by an adult. Some children can find their way to unlocked, unattended vehicles and unintentionally become trapped in them. Ensuring you do the following will prevent these tragedies from occurring:
- NEVER leave children or pets in unattended vehicles — not even for a minute!
- Even when windows are rolled down, the interior of a car can rise 20 degrees higher than the outdoor temps in as little as 10 minutes.
- If children and/or pets are traveling in your vehicle, find ways to remind yourself they are there. This can be as simple as putting a note on the steering wheel or placing a stuffed animal or their favorite toy next to you when they are occupants in your vehicle
- A child who has fallen asleep can be overlooked so when leaving your vehicle, check to ensure everyone is out.
- Once your car or truck is parked, lock the vehicle — even while at home. Curious children and pets may enter them without anyone knowing before it’s too late.
Every tragic event of a child and pet dying from heat exposure was preventable. Be wise this summer when it comes to unattended vehicles in hot climates; it very well could be the difference between life and death.