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Heat Stroke Facts that Could Save Your Child

"Tips to Beat the Heat (Stroke)"
By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComHeat Stroke Facts that Could Save Your Child

Heat Stroke Facts that Could Save Your Child

If you watch any news at all during the summer months, you are likely to hear (or have heard) of heat stroke and know that people have died from it. And then, at the back of your mind, you must have shrugged it off as something that would never happen to you and your family because that kind of thing only happens to other people.

But you’re wrong, because heat stroke can all too easily happen to anyone.

Fact 1: Children can die from heat stroke in as short as 15 minutes if left inside a parked car.

In 2005, the biomedical journal Pediatrics published findings that in a place with an ambient temperature of 84oF (29oC), which is pretty much the average temperature in Southeast Asia, the heat inside a non-air conditioned vehicle rises to 104oF (40oC) in a span of just 12 to 13 minutes.

Now heat stroke occurs when the body reaches 104oF (40oC). Put two and two together and we can easily see that unless a child is big and capable enough to get out of the car without any help, he or she is at high risk of heat stroke in less than 15 minutes after the driver turns off the engine.

But what if we had kept the car air conditioned before we parked it, so the temperature inside the car was lower than ambient temperature? According to the same study, regardless of how cool the car’s interior had been before the engine was turned off, the vehicle reaches ambient temperature within five minutes. And from there, the vehicle heats up at a similar rate as one in which the air conditioner had not been used at all. So cooling the car’s interior temperature before parking buys the trapped passenger only five extra minutes of life.

Incidentally, cracking the windows open even up to 8 inches (20 cm) was also found to make no significant difference in how quickly the car heats up to heat stroke level.

So really, there are only two things a parent can do to prevent vehicular heat stroke: either keep the car’s engine and the air conditioner running (which carries its own danger) or take the child out of the car and bring the child with you to where you’re going (recommended).

Fact 2: Most incidents of fatal vehicular heat stroke occur because the caregiver forgot that the child was in the car in the first place.

Between 1998 and 2014, the death rate from vehicular heat stroke was one child every 3.4 days. Only in 17% of the time was the child was left in the car intentionally because the adult had to buy groceries or do other chores. Most of the time – a whopping 54% of the time – it was because the caregivers, usually the parents, forgot that a child was in the car with them, and they unknowingly left the child in there.

To prevent this sort of tragedy from happening, the US National Safety Council advises that whenever we drive with a child in the backseat, we put an important object such as a purse or cell phone beside the child to remind us before we get off the car that the child is there with us too.

Fact 3: Heat stroke can be as deadly as a “regular” stroke.

There’s a reason why they are both called strokes: they kill in very similar ways. In a regular stroke, the supply of blood to the brain is interrupted; this damages the brain cells, causing symptoms such as confusion and seizure, resulting in coma and even death. In heat stroke, extreme temperature damages brain cells, causing symptoms such as confusion and seizure, resulting in coma and  even death. The triggers may be different, but the end results are the same.

Therefore, we should treat heat stroke as a medical emergency, just like a regular stroke. If you ever suspect that your child or spouse is having a heat stroke, have someone call immediately for medical help while you apply first aid until that help arrives.

Fact 4: Children 0–4 years old are at higher risk for heat stroke than their parents.

Children aged 0–4 overheat faster than the rest of the population for two major reasons:

1.    their smaller bodies and greater surface area make them absorb heat faster; and

2.    their still-developing bodies are not yet efficient at regulating their internal temperature, so they can’t cool themselves through sweating as well as we do.

Children also tend to do more physical activities, which increase their core temperature; and if they forget to drink enough water to keep themselves properly hydrated, their body will be unable to produce enough sweat to cool itself.

To protect our children from heat stroke during summer activities:

·         Make sure they drink at least five ounces of water before going out to play.

·         Train kids to drink water regularly during the game even when they don’t feel thirsty.

·         Do not allow children to stay long under the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hottest part of the day.

·         Be especially on guard when a child has factors that increase the risk for heat stroke, such as obesity, recent episodes of diarrhoea or vomiting, use of diuretics or antihistamines

·         If the child is accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, the child’s body may not be efficient at cooling itself down. Warn the child to avoid sudden excessive activity and take it slow.

The point that we hope to emphasize is that heat stroke can happen to anyone in the most ordinary of circumstances, and the risk increases when we are not on our guard. So keep an eye on your kids on hot days. Realize that a body temperature of 104oF (40oC) is a medical emergency and act accordingly. And make sure that you never, ever leave your child in a parked car, even for “just a few minutes.”

We hope your summer will be both happy and safe.

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