My neighbor’s 15-year-old grandson visited the DC area over the 4th of July weekend in order to perform with his high school marching band. Unfortunately, rather than drumming with his friends and classmates in the parade, he spent the day resting in the air-conditioned comfort of his grandparents’ home, as directed by a local Emergency Room doctor. This came about as a result of his collapsing during practice in the searing heat the night before the scheduled performance.
In recent years, there have been several reports of young athletes that have experienced serious health consequences, even death, as a result of being exposed to extreme heat. Generally, it is the combination of heat and physical activity that is blamed for the injuries.
I’m reminded of the long summer days I spent as a teen working on my parents’ Midwestern farm. I could not begin to count the number of times I was severely sun-burnt or experienced heat exhaustion, which still occasionally plagues me as an adult. This was considered ‘normal activity’ for a kid growing up on a farm; many would even say ‘healthy activity’ for a young person. (Medical links by WebMD.)
Children Left in Cars
The Department of Geosciences at San Fransisco State University provides data on the number of heat related deaths in the U.S. In 10 minutes, an infant or young child can succumb to the heat, even with windows partially open. In 2009, 33 children died as a result of being left in cars. In 2010, there have been 23 deaths thus far. My suspicion is that this number is lower than the actual number of deaths, due to variations and delays in reporting by states regarding deaths. And it does not account for the number of children who experience serious, life-long health consequences as a result of prolonged heat exposure in cars or even due to extended time out-of-doors and in buildings lacking appropriate air conditioning and ventilation.
[Update: In 2011, there were 206 heat related deaths and 33 children died due to being left in cars on warm days. As of June 2012, there have been 5 deaths due to children left in cars.]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aka CDC, cautions that heat exposure can be lethal to children, the elderly, and even healthy adults. Their guide, Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety, offers a great overview of the risks and precautions that should be taken to ensure children and adults are safe when the temperature rises.
Children are not miniature adults. Their bodies are different. The capacity to regulate the body temperature differs from that of adults, with size and physical development playing a role in their ability to tolerate heat.
As most of the nation is under the grips of heat waves, this is a reminder to monitor exposure to the elements. Outdoor activity can turn from enjoyable family time to a dangerous threat to the health and well-being of children and adults quickly in these warm summer days.
Oh, and don’t forget the pets ….