Protect your kids from fatal heatstroke

June 19, 2015 Providence Health Team

We’ve all heard the horror story on the evening news: a young child left in a car overheats and dies. It may be more common than you think, and it could happen to anyone. Since 1998, there have been more than 630 of these fatalities nationwide, including 30 last year and three so far this year. As summer temperatures rise, it’s critical to protect your kids from a perilous situation that is 100 percent preventable.

What is heatstroke?

Hyperthermia, known as heatstroke, is the top cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. Heatstroke happens when the body can’t cool itself fast enough. Young kids are at high risk because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults (and because little ones can’t speak up or let themselves out of a hot car). Major organs begin to shut down when a child’s internal temperature hits 104 degrees. At 107 degrees, a child can die.

Heatstroke symptoms can progress rapidly from flushed dry skin to vomiting to seizures to death. A car can heat up 19 degrees in 10 minutes, even when the outside temperature may not be considered “hot”. (Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months out of the year.)

Who is affected?

Vehicle-related heatstroke death affects families across all socioeconomic levels and races. Oftentimes, these tragedies happen to loving parents, mothers and fathers alike. New parents, in particular, may become forgetful due to sleep deprivation or a disrupted routine. Among this type of death, 53 percent of children were accidentally left in the car, according to, a global organization dedicated to preventing child injury. Twenty-nine percent of kids were playing in an unattended vehicle while only 17 percent were knowingly left alone.

How to protect your kid

  • Never leave your child alone in the car — even for a minute.
  • Keep your car locked to prevent kids from climbing inside to play on their own.
  • Give yourself a reminder by placing an item that’s critical for your final destination, like a laptop or a cell phone, next to the car seat. This is extremely helpful, especially if you’re not following your normal routine.
  • Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car. Emergency staff are trained to respond to this type of situation. You could help save a child’s life.

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