BUCKHANNON — Friday, July 31 is National Heatstroke Prevention Day and since 1998, 772 American children have died of heatstroke in hot cars. On average, a child dies from heatstroke in a vehicle every 10 days in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some statistical data estimate that there are more than 1,300 deaths per year in the United States, due to extreme heat.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, heatstroke can occur in children quickly, as their bodies are smaller, weigh less, and are therefore more prone to the effects of extreme temperatures. Even when the temperature is only 60 degrees outside, a vehicle can reach temperatures of 110 degrees. This isn’t typically about irresponsible people intentionally leaving children in cars, but instead usually occurs when a child is accidentally left or gets in an unattended vehicle and becomes trapped. The NHTSA encourages parents to always check their backseat prior to leaving the car and to consider keeping a stuffed animal or memento in the child’s car seat when empty, then relocate it to the front seat as a visual reminder when the child is in the back seat.
Local EMT Instructor Matt Crawford explained that although Upshur County has experienced extreme heat indexes of 105 this summer, he cannot recall a heatstroke case thus far, but said they have had some heat related calls. Crawford believes that more people are outdoors this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic – people that maybe aren’t used to being outside, therefore they aren’t taking the proper precautions.
According to St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Director of Emergency Services Maria Long, MD, “A heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises above normal due to environmental heat, with severe heat stroke being over 104 degrees.” When this occurs, the central nervous system dysfunctions, causing confusion and the body’s inability to regulate its temperature. “A heat stroke can occur due to exertion, such as exercise on a hot, humid day or due to non-exertional causes like underlying medical conditions or medications that interfere with the body regulating its temperature when exposed to a hot environment,” she elaborated.
The obvious symptoms of heat strokes include confusion, elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, as well as elevated body temperature, not attributed to a fever. In more severe cases, a heat stroke can lead to seizures, kidney failure, coma or even death. Crawford explained that some symptoms are like that of a regular stroke such as facial droop. The most important information to relay to EMS when they arrive is the time symptoms began.
According to Crawford, when a patient stops sweating, they get concerned because sweating is how the body cools itself down. When this stops happening, someone is potentially headed toward a stroke, rather than just experiencing heat exhaustion. He emphasized, “stay hydrated, stay hydrated, stay hydrated,” by drinking plenty of water and staying away from adult beverages and sugary drinks such as soda. A person should typically drink 8-10 glasses of water a day, but when enjoying or working outdoors, one should drink double that amount to properly stay hydrated, Crawford explained. If outside for longer than an hour, he encourages considering a bottle of Gatorade occasionally because too much water intake can cause water intoxication. To gauge if you are hydrated, EMT will ask about the clarity of urine – clear and regular urine indicates hydration, rather than dark, concentrated urine which indicates dehydration.
Although anyone can be affected by a heat stroke, there are risk factors included such as poor physical conditioning, dehydration, chronic medical conditions and age, whether that be elderly or young.
If you are experiencing a heatstroke, Dr. Long recommends being taken to a cool area and to apply cool damp cloths while calling and waiting for medical assistance. Do not apply ice, Crawford stated. Heatstroke is an emergency – if you are experiencing symptoms or see a child in a vehicle alone, call 911!