Leaving a child in a hot car, even for a few minutes, can be deadly, warns doctor

27 May 2018 | Canada
Leaving a child in a hot car, even for a few minutes, can be deadly, warns doctor

The car door closes with a thunk, then heat starts to build and a deadly countdown begins.

First comes sweating, then panting, then the heart rate rises and skin becomes flushed. 

If children are left in a hot car, even for minutes, those symptoms can lead to heatstroke and worse, according to Dr. Chris Sulowski, deputy chief at the McMaster Children's Hospital's pediatric emergency department.

"Your body's ability to dissipate heat in the oven-like environment, like a hot car, can be overwhelmed," he explained, adding once a person's internal temperature rises to 41 C it doesn't take long for their life to be in danger. 

"It can very quickly progress to seizures, coma … and death."

A hot vehicle has already claimed the life of a Burlington, Ont. boy this spring. On Wednesday, emergency crews were called to a television station on North Service road by a "hysterical man" who found the toddler without vital signs.

Halton Regional Police believe the boy is three years old. On Thursday they released the results of an autopsy that listed the preliminary cause of death as hyperthermia, "consistent with the child being left in a vehicle."

Unfortunately, Sulowski said, children suffering from heat exposure is something his emergency department sees every year.

This doc locked himself in hot car to prove a point

The threat is so real that last July, on a day where the mercury was edging past 30 C, one of Sulowski's coworkers, Dr. Anthony Crocco, locked himself in a Jeep 4x4 on a sweltering day to show people what a steaming car can do to someone.

The then 44-year-old does triathlons and is healthier than most. In a car where the temperature topped 40 C he lasted all of 15 minutes before bailing and being examined by paramedics who were standing by.

In 2016, Hamilton paramedics responded to 65 heat-related calls, and 17 of them were kids, including two who needed emergency treatment because they were accidentally locked in hot cars.

Last year they between April and September they received 17 more heat calls, said David Thompson, superintendent of programs and development.

Sulowski said there's no minimum amount of time a child can be left in a car without the possibility death or damage will be caused by heat.

He's one of many health care professionals who have started to carry a window-breaking tool whenever he goes out.

"Once you see the effects [you know] if you've got to break the glass, you're going to break the glass."cbc