Gardeners must take precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses

Trisha Gedon OSU communications

STILLWATER — It takes standing outside only a short time to get the full effect of the summer season. While many gardeners enjoy their time in the garden, extreme temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses.

Although heat-related emergencies are fairly common, they can be avoided, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.

“Even though there may be weeding, harvesting or watering to be done, during the hottest part of the day it’s a better idea to find a good garden magazine and enjoy the coolness of your air conditioning,” Hillock said. “Whenever possible, work outside in the early morning hours or later in the evening when it’s not so hot. However, if you must be outside during peak temperatures, make sure you stay hydrated, dress in light-colored clothing, apply sunscreen and take frequent breaks.”

Heat-related illnesses can be very serious and range from sunburn to heat stroke. In the event your sunburn blisters, there are a number of ointments available to help ease the pain. However, extensive sunburn should be checked out by a doctor.

Heat cramps are painful spasms, typically in the legs, but also can occur in the abdomen. These cramps will usually go away on their own. If you experience heat cramps, go inside immediately. Drink a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes and salt. If no sports drinks are available, sip on cool water.

Hillock said heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating; weakness; or cold, pale and clammy skin. A person also may experience fainting or vomiting. If this happens, get out of the sun, loosen your clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to your skin.

While the symptoms of heat stroke are similar to heat exhaustion, heat stroke is the most serious of heat-related illnesses. Other symptoms may include confusion, staggering, seizures or the person may become unconscious. It is a severe medical emergency and must be treated immediately. A delay in medical treatment could be fatal.

“It’s important for gardeners to know their limits when it comes to spending time outdoors in the heat,” he said. “Although we all want our landscapes to look their best, it’s not worth a medical emergency.”