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Minute-by-minute what happens to your child’s body in a car in the heatwave

THE UK is in the middle of a scorching heatwave.

And while it can be tempting to leave your child in the car when you’re doing a quick whiz around the supermarket, the dangers are life-threatening.

 Leaving children in the car at any time is a bad idea

Leaving children in the car at any time is a bad idea

The Met Office has issued an Amber Extreme heat warning covering large parts of England and Wales over the weekend, meaning “population-wide adverse health effects, not limited to those most vulnerable”.

On July 17 and 18, temperatures are expected to hit 35C or even higher, which could mean the warning could be bumped up to a Red “national emergency” for the first time ever.

The sizzling heat is expected to move into next week.

You likely already know the extreme danger of leaving a child in a car – but did you know it can take less than half an hour for the effects to kick in?

Even if it’s a cloudy day, sweating and thirst can start within 45 minutes.

Experiments show that even on a cooler summer day, temperatures inside a closed vehicle can quickly exceed 125°F (about 52°C) – just off the world record for the hottest temperature ever recorded of 56’C in Death Valley, California.

The cabin of a car can become 20’C hotter than the temperature outside, even on cool and cloudy days, as a result of the greenhouse effect.

As the car becomes an oven, the longer you leave a child, the more at risk they become from severe health issues.

When you spend some time in a high temperature, your body’s thermoregulatory efficiency decreases while body temperature starts to rise.

The body is in a state of hyperthermia, as it absorbs more heat than it dissipates.

It is especially dangerous when body temperature is higher than 40C (compared to the normaly 36-37C).

Such a situation is known medically as heat illness, which may cause heat stroke – dizziness, confusion and seizures.

An average of 38 children die as a result of being left in a car every year in the UK, stats say. Most are under the age of two.

Omni has a Hot Car Calculator, which gives a minute-by-minute breakdown of what happens to a kid when they are left in a hot car.

It allows you to adjust for temperature, cloud cover and the colour of the car.

For example on a sunny 25C day with a clear sky, a child in a dark car would be at risk of death within 70 minutes.

Even with scattered clouds, it would reach this danger point within 75 minutes.

Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical director of Patient.info, says: “You may think leaving your child in the car for just a few minutes is fine unless we’re having one of the few really sunny days we get in the UK.

“But apart from the security aspect, there are real risks to your child’s health from spending just a few minutes in a car with the windows up.

“The smaller your child, the less good they are at regulating their body temperature. That means they’re at real risk of dangerous heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

“Their body fluid is carefully regulated, and depends on the right balance of fluid and salts. But babies and small children lose fluid very quickly from sweating and increased breathing rate, leaving them at serious risk of dehydration.

“Once their body reaches a critical temperature, the normal body mechanisms don’t work any more. Their temperature can skyrocket, leaving them at risk of organ damage and even death.

“The inside of the car is like a greenhouse, and we all know they’re designed to keep plants much warmer than being in the open air. There’s no breeze, and even on a cloudy day sun on the windows and roof with rapidly leave the inside of the car like a sauna.

“So no matter how short and no matter how cloudy, just don’t do it.”

Minute-by-minute

22C with scattered clouds in a dark car (the car may reach 56.4C).

40 mins: 

  • hyperthermia
  • sweating
  • thirst
  • very uncomfortable

60 mins:

  • severe sweating
  • flushed
  • increased heart rate
  • children with epilepsy may start convulsing

90 mins (life-threatening):

  • fainting
  • dehydration
  • weakness
  • vomiting
  • breathlessness

165 mins (medical emergency):

  • severe headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • delirium
  • medical emergency

26C with a clear sky in a dark car (the car may reach 66.5C).

30 mins: 

  • hyperthermia
  • sweating
  • thirst
  • very uncomfortable

45 mins:

  • severe sweating
  • flushed
  • increased heart rate
  • children with epilepsy may start convulsing

70 mins (life-threatening):

  • fainting
  • dehydration
  • weakness
  • vomiting
  • breathlessness

110 mins (medical emergency):

  • severe headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • delirium
  • medical emergency

Every symptom is sped up significantly as it gets hotter, or if you have a dark-coloured car.

Under 27C heat, it takes just 25 minutes for hyperthermia to kick in and under an hour for children with epilepsy to start fitting.

But it doesn’t have to be very hot at all for trouble to start.

18C is warm enough to put children at risk – within 85 minutes a child’s heart rate rises and severe sweating starts.

To prove how hot cars can become, Aussie chef Matt Moran overcooked a lamb loin in 90 minutes…using only his car.

He left a pan on the front seat and didn’t apply any extra heat.

The meat wasn’t just cooked, it was too well cooked.

Granted, Australia tends to be hotter than the UK, but the sun can turn any car into an oven.

So however tempting it may be, never leave your pets or kids in cars – even if it doesn’t seem hot or cloudy.


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