Dubai: Forgetting your children in a hot car could expose them to a very slow and painful death, doctors say.
Summers can be brutal in the UAE, with maximum temperatures soaring to the 40s even in coastal areas such as Dubai. But this is nothing compared to when you’re inside a parked car with no air conditioning.
To illustrate the dangers of hot car interiors to children, Gulf News teamed up with doctors from Emirates Hospital to get a first-hand experience on how much heat the body can tolerate in such conditions.
“In this heat, it feels like you’re literally being baked in the oven,” Dr Asanji Winston, Head of the Emergency Medicine Department at Emirates Hospital-Jumeirah, said.
Dr Winston made the comment seated beside Dr Abeer Khayat, Consultant Paediatrician at Emirates Hospital, in a four-door family compact car used for the public-awareness demonstration.
The pair sat with a Gulf News reporter and a videographer in a parked car in the midday sun, with the windows closed and AC switched off.
In the mounting temperatures, 20 minutes was all it took for everyone to be drenched in sweat.
The exposure to heat led to racing heartbeats accompanied by difficulty breathing.
Swap them with children and the result would have been fatal, the doctors said.
“Children don’t have [a] mature regulatory system for controlling their temperature. The younger they are, the higher the risk is for them. As for how long they can tolerate the heat [in a locked car] — it’s not more than [a] few minutes,” Dr Khayat said.
Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’.
“So even thinking of leaving these children for a few minutes inside the car is not good because their body composition is different than adults’,” she added.
Most recently, two Emirati girls, aged two and four, died in Ajman in June after being trapped while playing in the family car.
The incident followed a string of tragic child deaths across the UAE in recent years, including the death of a four-year-old Emirati child left in a garage in Sharjah in July 2015.
In 2015, 177 children were left in cars in the space of 16 months, said Dubai Police,
In the US, children dying in hot cars has become an all too common tragedy during summers with a recorded 732 child deaths between 1998 and August 2017 — that’s 36 preventable deaths every year.
Experts say children suffer agonising deaths if they are trapped in cars.
“Definitely, they feel the suffering. First, because of the separation from a family member. So this is emotional trauma. Then when their temperature starts to rise before they faint, or before they go into coma, they will have difficulty breathing and they will feel like they are drowning,” Dr Khayat said.
“Nobody can explain how the child may feel, but I’m sure there is a lot of suffering before they fall into a coma, or before they succumb to death,” she added, her breathing getting faster.
Back in Dubai, the lack of proper ventilation had increased the discomfort for the car occupants. As the experiment neared the 20-minute mark, sweat poured down both doctors’ faces. Dr Khayat could be heard exclaiming: “It’s killing now.”
As the mercury spiked to almost 47C, Dr Winston said: “You can tolerate heat to some extent but this is not comfortable at all. The body has wonderful signals that are there to tell you there’s danger, so you move out.”
“The message is very clear: Do not forget children in the car.”
How to avoid child vehicular stroke
— Never leave your kids unattended inside cars — not even for a minute.
— Remind yourself that there are occupants in the back seat by putting something like your purse of mobile phone next to the child.
— Make it a habit to “look before you lock” whenever getting out of the car. — Ensure cars are locked when not in use so kids don’t get in on their own. Teach kids that vehicles should never be used as play area.
— In case a child is missing, always check the pool first, and then the car, including the trunk.
— In case a child is found alone in a car, call police or emergency services immediately. Do not delay going to the hospital. If the child is still conscious, spray him/her with cold water. Turn on the AC to the highest degree. Put ice packs under the child’s armpits and on the neck to cool him/her down quickly. If the child is unconscious, while taking the aforementioned steps call an ambulance and if trained, start regular CPR.