Sometimes it is a parent running an errand, sometimes it is a breakdown in communications and sometimes it is negligence, but whatever the cause, leaving a child in a car on a sunny day can lead to death in a matter of minutes.
HEAT VS. TIME
WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE
(1) Sun’s rays (short t-wave radiation) do not heat the air so much as they heat objects inside the car.
(2) Objects and surfaces absorb the rays, then radiate heat (long-wave radiation).
(3) Temperatures inside the car can become much hotter than the outside temperature, even on a cold day.
The interior: The air heats up to between 115 and 155 degrees, depending on the color and type of surfaces. Dark colors and hard surfaces heat up the fastest.
Windows: The greatest increase in temperature occurs in the first 10 minutes. Cracking windows – even up to 2 inches – does little to alleviate heat buildup because the car is heating up from the inside.
Car color: Has little effect on the interior temperature.
STAGES OF HYPERTHERMIA
Children, especially infants, are particularly vulnerable because their heat-regulating systems are not as well developed as an adult’s.
(1) Heat stress: Body temperature is normal. Warmth begins to cause physical discomfort; perspiration starts in effort to cool body.
(2) Heat exhaustion: Body temperature is 98 to 105 degrees. Profuse sweating, muscle cramps, mental confusion, often nausea and vomiting.
(3) Heatstroke: Body temperature exceeds 105 degrees. Perspiration stops because of dehydration. Core temperature rises. Heart rate and breathing quickens. Body turns red.
(4) Death: Brain and other organs fail as they are deprived of blood. Unconsciousness sets in, leading to coma and death.
Note: Child-restraint seats for infants should always be facing backward.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Kathryn Emery, Children’s Hospital and San Francisco State University