During the warmest summer months of July and August Fundación MAPFRE often warns of the importance of not leaving children alone in the car in order to avoid what is known as ‘heat stroke’. These are the months in which the highest temperatures are registered. However, this does not mean that during the rest of the year we should not be extra cautious. We should never leave a child alone inside a vehicle.
And it should not be forgotten that suffering from heat stroke is not only a risk on the hottest days of the year. On days with temperatures a little over 20ºC, the inside of a car can reach 50ºC. A body temperature higher than 40°C can be life threatening (a normal body temperature ranges from 36.6 to 37.5°C).
A temperature of 20ºC is very normal, above all in Spain. For example, according to data from the State Meteorology Agency (AEMET), in March 2017 Alicante airport reached 34.8ºC on the tenth day of the month. On that same dia Murcia reached 33.6ºC.
This can also be seen in data from last year. To cite a few examples, Murcia reached 28.9ºC on 30 April 2016 and 34.5ºC on 22 May last year. Moreover we should add that the summer of 2016 was particularly hot, with an average temperature of 24.2ºC. It was the third warmest summer since 1965.
Merely winding the car windows down slightly is not enough. This natural ventilation does not reduce the rapid temperature increase inside the vehicle. A child can suffer heat stroke if left inside a vehicle for 10 minutes with an outside temperature close to 25 degrees, as indicated in the ‘Children in cars and heat stroke in infancy’ (Spanihs) report by Fundación MAPFRE and the Spanish Paediatric Association.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke -or thermal shock- is one of the most serious cases of hyperthermia. The body overheats as a result of the high temperatures or due to excessive physical excercise. Insufficient hydration halts the normal functioning of different organs.
Heat stroke occurs as a consequence of an acute failure in thermoregulation and it is extremely important to react quickly.
It can happen, for example, if we leave a child alone inside a car exposed to the sun or if the child is exposed to humid and high temperatures without protection or adequate hydration.
The report mentioned earlier points out that the majority of victims of hyperthermia are between 0 to 5 years old. Due to a child's smaller water reserves, their body temperature raises 3 to 5 times faster than that of an adult. Moreover, the respiratory tract of children, which is still developing, means they are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion.
These are the main symptoms:
- Raising of body temperature to over 40ºC (fever or hyperthermia).
- Altered consciousness which can be accompanied by seizures and, unlike sunstroke, dry and very hot skin.
- Other symptoms may present themselves such as fatigue and weakness, dizziness, nausea and even vomiting, muscle spasms, intense headache and confusion, shallow and fast breathing and tachycardia (a very fast heart rate) and a weak pulse.