Preventing Heat-Related Injuries

While summer rages and the mercury climbs, overheating is a top priority. Especially for kids, their little bodies can’t handle the heat as well as adults, meaning they need extra care when it comes to hot–and even warm–days, especially in the moving oven known as your car. With higher temperatures occurring more days of the year across the U.S., keeping kids out of hot cars is an important issue for every family.

It takes only 10 minutes for the temperature inside a vehicle to rise 20 degrees. For children in particular, this increase is enough
to result in death. From 1998 to 2021, 906 children have died due to pediatric vehicular heatstroke. Of those, 52.7% were forgotten by a caregiver, 25.8% gained access on their own and 20% were left behind.

All of these deaths could have been prevented.

Wear Appropriate Clothing: Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Stay Cool Indoors: Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.

Keep in mind: Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, they will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully: Try to limit your outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so that your body has a chance to recover.

Pace Yourself: Cut down on exercise during the heat. If you’re not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Wear Sunscreen: Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and can make you dehydrated. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.

Tip: Look for sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels- these products work best.

If the power goes out or air conditioning is not available

  • If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine.
  • Ask your doctor about any prescription medicine you keep refrigerated. (If the power goes out, most medicine will be fine to leave in a closed refrigerator for at least 3 hours.)
  • Keep a few bottles of water in your freezer; if the power goes out, move them to your refrigerator and keep the doors shut.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & WA Department of Health

The most dangerous mistake a parent or caregiver can make is to think leaving a child alone in a vehicle could never happen to them or their family.

Cars can quickly heat up to dangerous temperatures, even with a window cracked open. While anyone left in a parked car is at risk, children are especially at risk of getting a heat stroke or dying. When traveling with children, remember to do the following:

  • Never leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
  • To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver.
  • When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.

Statistics

The average number of U.S. child hot car deaths is 38 per year. (one every 9 days). An in-depth analysis of child hot car death data can be found here.

For daily updates on child hot car deaths, click here.

The Greenhouse Effect in Vehicles

  • The inside of a vehicle heats up VERY quickly. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 125
  • degrees in minutes.
  • 80% of the increase in inside temperature happens in the first 10 minutes.
  • Cracking the windows does not help slow the heating process OR decrease the maximum temperature.
  • Children have died from heatstroke in cars when outside temperatures were as low as 60 degrees.

Contributing Factors

  • A child’s body overheats 3-5 times faster than an adult body.
  • A change in daily routine, lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, and distractions are things ALL new parents experience and are just
  • Some of the reasons children have been unknowingly left alone in vehicles.
  • Rear-facing car seats look the same to the driver, whether there is a baby in it or not.
  • Children, especially babies, often fall asleep in their rear-facing child safety seats; becoming quiet, little passengers.

Source: Kids and Hot Car Safety

Make sure your child is never left alone in a car:

  • Place the child’s diaper bag or item in the front passenger seat as a visual cue that the child is with you.
  • Make it a habit of opening the back door every time you park to ensure no one is left behind. To enforce this habit, place an item that you can’t start your day without in the back seat (employee badge, laptop, phone, handbag, etc.)
  • Ask your childcare provider to call you right away if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
  • Clearly announce and confirm who is getting each child out of the vehicle. Miscommunication can lead to thinking someone else removed the child.

Make sure children cannot get into a parked car:

  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, especially in the garage or driveway. Ask neighbors and visitors to do the same.
  • Never leave car keys within reach of children.
  • Use childproofing knob covers and door alarms to prevent children from exiting your home unnoticed.
  • Teach children to honk the horn or turn on hazard lights if they become stuck inside a car.
  • If a child is missing, immediately check the inside, floorboards and trunk of all vehicles in the area carefully, even if they’re locked

Additional safety tips:

  • Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
  • Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many tragedies occur.
  • Use drive-thru services when available (restaurant, bank, pharmacy, dry cleaner) and pay for gas at the pump

Source: Kids and Hot Car Safety

When the temperature climbs above 80 °F, older adults need to be proactive and take precautions to avoid ailments due to excessive heat. Keep in mind the following tips when trying to stay cool.

  • Stay away from direct sun exposure as much as possible. If possible, plan your outdoor activities either early in the morning or when the sun starts to set.
  • Air conditioning is your friend in summer. Spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned spaces. If you don’t have an air conditioner, go somewhere that is air-conditioned. For example, read a book at the library, walk around in indoor malls, watch that new movie at the theater, or meet your friends at the senior center. (Note: The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults 65 and older who have limited incomes cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills. To reach your state’s LIHEAP program, call 1-866-674-6327.)
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of cool water, clear juices, and other liquids that don’t contain alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine cause you to lose water in your body by making you urinate more.

Source: National Institute on Aging

It’s important to recognize when hot weather is making you sick, and when to get help. Here’s a list of health problems caused by exposure to too much heat:

Source: Health in Aging (American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation)

What it is: A loss of water in your body. It can be serious if not treated.

Warning signs: Weakness, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion, and passing out.

What to do: Drink plenty of water and, if possible, sports drinks such as Gatorade™, which contain important salts called “electrolytes.” Among other things, electrolytes play a key role in regulating your heartbeat. Your body loses electrolytes when you’re dehydrated. If you don’t feel better, call 911. If you feel better after drinking fluids, but have medical conditions like heart failure or take diuretics (“water pills”), you should also call your healthcare provider for a follow-up.

What it is: A very dangerous rise in your body temperature, which may happen gradually over days of heat exposure in older adults. It can be deadly.

Warning signs: A body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher; red, hot, and dry skin; a fast pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; confusion or lethargy; and passing out.

What to do: Call 911 immediately. Move to a cool, shady place and take off or loosen heavy clothes. If possible, douse yourself with cool water, or put cloths soaked with cool water on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck to lower your temperature. Try to see if you can safely swallow water or sports drinks while waiting for 911.

Note: If you are caring for someone else who has heat stroke, only give them water or drinks if they are awake and can swallow. Do not try to give fluids by mouth if the person is drowsy, as it could cause choking.

What it is: A serious health problem caused by too much heat and dehydration. If not treated, it may lead to heat stroke (see above).

Warning signs: Heavy sweating or no sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, paleness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fast and weak pulse, fainting. Body temperature is generally between 98.6°F (37°C) and 104°F (40°C).

What to do: Without delay, move to a cool, shady place, and drink plenty of cool fluids, such as water or sports drinks. Call 911 right away if you have high blood pressure or heart problems, or if you don’t feel better quickly after moving to the shade and drinking liquids.

What it is: Fainting caused by high temperatures.

Warning signs: Dizziness or fainting.

What to do: Lie down and put your feet up, and drink plenty of water and other cool fluids.