There’s only one thing that can keep me out of the garden – the heat. We’re only halfway through summer and I’ve had to cut way back on my gardening. It’s just too hot to work safely outdoors. Although July is typically our hottest month, August isn’t much better.
Heat is the most dangerous weather-related event. More than 65,000 Americans visit emergency rooms each year because of heat-related illnesses. Nationwide, heat kills more people than tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, earthquakes, floods and volcanoes combined.
Anyone can experience heat stress, but some of us are more vulnerable than others. Older adults (over age 65) and young children are most susceptible to heat injuries. Individuals with heart disease, diabetes and breathing difficulties are also at risk. Taking certain medications can make you particularly sensitive to the effects of excessive heat and sunlight. Fortunately, heat-related illnesses related to gardening are preventable. The trick is to garden safely.
A healthy body cools itself through the process of perspiration. Sweat evaporates from our skin which cools us down. When the humidity is high, sweat can’t evaporate because the air is already saturated with moisture. This makes the temperature seem hotter than it really is – the heat index. This is dangerous because our bodies can quickly overheat. Body fluids lost through perspiration must be replaced quickly. The most important aspect of keeping cool is staying well-hydrated. Drink plenty of water whether you’re thirsty or not.
Garden when it’s a little cooler – early morning or late evening. Minimize exposed skin. UV damage from the sun is cumulative. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and be extra generous with the sunscreen. Use an SPF of 30 or higher whether your complexion is dark or fair. Don’t forget to protect your eyes and face. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include confusion or inability to concentrate, light-headedness, headache, cramping, nausea and vomiting or dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration). Urine should always be clear and yellow. If you have any of these symptoms, get out of the heat right away, preferably somewhere air-conditioned. Drink plenty of fluids and rest. Take a cool shower or bath. Heat exhaustion is not something to take lightly. It can lead to heat stroke which is a medical emergency. If your symptoms don’t improve in 15 or 20 minutes, seek medical attention.
As we get older, most of us find ourselves on one or more medications. How often do we think about how they affect us in the heat? Many meds interrupt the way our bodies regulate our temperature. Antidepressants, antihistamines, blood pressure meds, diuretics (water pills), sleeping pills, even meds to stop smoking may potentially increase our risk of heat-related illnesses. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Excessive heat can be unsafe. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stay indoors.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org