The summer heat is in full gear, which reminds us of the dangers heat-related injuries can bring when exposed to these conditions. In certain environments, as is the case of parked vehicles in direct sunlight, these conditions can even be life threatening especially for children and pets. And, since children and pets are dependent on caregivers’ supervision and actions to insure their safety, they are more susceptible to the consequences negligence and forgetfulness can bring. Fortunately, following a few tips and using a bit of due diligence can avoid catastrophe and sorrow from occurring.
As the sun bears down on cars and trucks, windows act as a green house, allowing sunlight in, while trapping and radiating heat inside the vehicle. Even on mild days, where outside temperatures are comfortably 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 at 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 in 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.
Again and unfortunately, the majority of deaths attributed to heat exposure from being in these superheated deathtraps are young children and pets. Everyone must realize children and pets do not have the capacity to remove themselves from dangerous situations and rely on others to protect them from harm’s way, which includes keeping tabs on them always. See, not all that are injured or die in this manner were left in a car by an adult. Some children and pets can find their way into unlocked, unattended vehicles and unintentionally become trapped in them. Make sure you do your part to prevent this 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 insure 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.
In nearly every circumstance in which a child or pet died from heat exposure was preventable. Be wise this summer, and every season for that matter, when it comes to unattended vehicles in hot climates, it very well could be the difference between saving a life and losing one.