What You Need to Know About Overheating Before Hitting the Friendly Skies with Your Baby

Heat. A small child with a fan.

On June 22nd, Emily France of Superior, Colorado, feared her overheated four-month-old baby would die in her arms while they waited to evacuate a United Airlines flight at Denver International Airport. By the time an ambulance rushed Owen away, the plane had been sitting on the tarmac for over two hours. Though crew members allowed France to come to the front of the plane and hold her son in front of the open door while they brought bags of ice, Owen was struggling with the heat. It was an unusually warm day, with temperatures in the 90’s.

France said, “His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming. And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.”

After the paramedics were called, another thirty minutes passed before Owen finally left by ambulance. Owen is now home and healthy. In a statement, United apologized and said they are taking steps to find out how this happened in order to prevent future occurrences.

While this situation may find many parents thinking twice before flying with little ones, it’s important to consider the facts before calling off your summer air travel plans.

Overheating happens when the rising temperature of your body outpaces its ability to regulate itself or to cool itself down. Overheating can lead to heat stroke, which is potentially fatal. Babies are especially vulnerable to heat stroke because their nervous systems, responsible for temperature regulation, are not yet mature. Physician and mother of three, Ivy Pointer, M.D., who works in the pediatric intensive care unit at Wake Med in North Carolina, explains why.

From a physiology standpoint, [babies and children] have a higher metabolic rate, meaning that they physically create more heat per kilogram of body weight. They have higher heat absorption due to the fact that they have a higher surface area to mass ratio. And they have a lower rate of sweating.

According to Florida physician and mother Micheyle Goldman, D.O., M.P.H., medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Memorial Hospital West, though heat cramps and heat exhaustion are common in the summer months, heat stroke, which is the most severe form of heat illness, is relatively rare. Goldman says that though young children and infants, in particular, are at higher risk, heat-related illnesses are more commonly seen in adolescent athletes who do not hydrate adequately.

Both Goldman and Pointer noted most infants who come to the hospital…

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