Kids, Cars and the Heat Factor

Leaving your child unattended in a car is always dangerous, especially on hot, sunny summer days.

When you’re toting around a little one and running errands, it may be tempting to dash into the grocery store for milk or run into the post office to mail a package. But even these seemingly fast tasks can quickly put your child at risk for heatstroke.

“The temperature in a vehicle can rise very rapidly and cause heatstroke in children, who are more susceptible to temperature changes because of the relatively large surface area of their skin to their body mass,” says Robert Genzel, M.D., L.P., F.A.A.E.M., emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth and medical director of the Texas Motor Speedway. “Babies and children absorb outside heat or lose heat much faster than adults do, and they’re often unable to open a window or exit the vehicle on their own. When combined, these factors can create a very dangerous and even deadly situation.”

 

Warning Signs

When a child gets overheated, whether in a hot car or any other environment, he or she may start to demonstrate unusual behavior, including confusion, decreased responsiveness or seizure. Additionally, the child may become inconsolable, have noticeably low energy or start to vomit.

“Any of these signs may indicate heatstroke, which is an absolute emergency,” Dr. Genzel says. “Immediately take steps to cool your child and transport him or her to the nearest hospital.”

 

How to Cool Down

If you notice any child exhibiting signs of heatstroke:

  • Take the child to a cold, air-conditioned environment.
  • Remove all clothing.
  • Run cool water or a fan over the child.

“Prevention of heatstroke is better than treatment,” Dr. Genzel says. “But if an emergency does occur, it’s critical that you know how to respond.”

 

Don’t Forget Your Pets

Like children, beloved family animals are similarly susceptible to heatstroke, and it is not uncommon for dogs to die from the condition when left in a hot car. Even if the windows are partially open, the temperature in your car can quickly climb to a temperature that is too high for your pets.

“Treat your animals as if they are infants,” Dr. Genzel says. “Do not leave them in a vehicle alone for any length of time.”

To find a family practice physician on staff with Texas Health, visit TexasHealth.org/Doctors.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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