Physicians are urging everyone to take special precautions during the summer to protect those who are most vulnerable to the dangers posed by this season's heat and humidity - children and elderly.
"It's always dangerous to leave a child in a parked car, even for a few minutes," said Dr. Martin Finkel, co-director of the Child Abuse Research and Education Services (CARES) Institute at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine (UMDNJ-SOM).
Advertisement"Already this year, 13 children have died in this country when left behind in a parked car. Seven of those tragedies happened on days when the outside temperature was less than 90 degrees, including one instance when it was just 73 degrees," Finkel added.
A parked car's interior temperature can increase by 19 degrees after just 10 minutes and, within 20 minutes, will soar by nearly 30 degrees, even when the windows are "cracked."
Finkel cautioned that high temperatures can also lead to brain or internal organ damage in young children.
"If you accidentally leave a child in a hot, parked car and return to find that child asleep, don't assume he or she is taking a nap. You could be seeing signs of heat exhaustion or serious heat injury. Remove the child from the car immediately and call 911 if the child is unresponsive," Finkel said.
According to Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, founder of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging and the dean of UMDNJ-SOM, elderly individuals may be even more susceptible to the dangers of summer weather.
"Forty percent of all heat-related deaths occur in people aged 65 or older. Many older individuals have medical conditions that increase the dangers of hot weather. Their bodies are slower to adjust to temperature changes and they may have a diminished thirst reflex that keeps them from drinking adequate amounts of liquid. Some individuals may have safety and financial concerns that keep them behind locked doors and windows without fans or air conditioners," Cavalieri said.
On warm, summer days, Cavalieri recommends checking regularly on older friends, neighbors and relatives, and being alert for signs - such as dizziness, confusion and nausea - that indicate the need for medical intervention.
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