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Hot car dangers: Kids at greater risk for heatstroke than adults

Aug 31, 2017 09:23AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Meteorologist Jan Null’s research shows that the temperature inside the car can rise as much as 43 degrees in the first hour. Pictured: A screenshot of an animation of temperature change on Null’s website noheatstroke.org. (noheatstroke.org)

Gallery: Hot cars can be dangerous [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Jessica Parcell | j.parcell@mycityjournals.com

Leaving kids in a car, even for a quick run into the store, is more of a health hazard than people think.

According to a research study done by meteorologist Jan Null at San Jose State University, the temperature within a car rises 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes. By the close of the first hour the internal temperatures of the car will have risen a full 43 degrees.

“I think we’ve all done that, where we’ve pulled into a parking spot, turned off the car, but not gotten out. Maybe we’re checking messages or something like that,” Null said. “You notice it starts heating up right away.”

For adults this may not seem like a big deal, but they need to take into account that childrens’ bodies don’t behave quite the same as adults’. As the temperature in the car continues to rise, so does the body temperature of the occupants inside, and Null said that a child’s body temperature rises three to five times as fast as an adult.

Statistics given on Null’s website, noheatstroke.org, show that 725 children left in hot cars have died of heatstroke since 1998. Fifty-four percent of those deaths were reported as “forgotten by caregiver.” In 2017 alone there have already been 25 reported cases of child heatstroke deaths. 

The clinical definition of heatstroke is when a person’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit and the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed. Null said that when the body reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit the cells in the body begin to burst and organs shut down.

“One of the things that first responders look for is that they will have hot, dry skin but it won’t be sweaty,” Null said. “When you have heatstroke it’s like basically turning off your body’s air conditioning.”

Kevin Condra, manager of the Outreach Bureau with Salt Lake County Health Department, said that part of the reason the body stops sweating and starts shutting down is its attempt to conserve energy.

“Sweat is one of the ways it tries to do that, but when it gets overwhelmed what it tries to do is consolidate its energy,” Condra said. “The problem is it doesn’t realize that you can’t go unconscious, you can’t slow down the heart rate and you can’t slow down the lungs and everything else.”

As far as why so many caregivers say they “forgot” their child in the car, he has no answer. 

He said as part of their child passenger safety program they tell parents is to make sure they’re checking things when they leave the car.

“One of the things we’ll tell a busy mom when she has a lot of kids and everything else is to leave something in that back seat like a purse or something that will remind you to look back there and grab that,” Condra said. 

“We even recommend that for pets, but we’re talking about kids,” Condra said. “Both are in a dangerous situation in high temperatures.” 

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