Gardening can be a challenge in the summer when temperatures soar up to 100-plus degrees and the heat index makes it feel more like 110-degrees.
Heat-related illness is the number one cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, around 500 annually, with 57% of all heat-related deaths from North Carolina agricultural workers. Last year 1,075 heat-related illnesses were reported in the 2012 North Carolina Heat Report (publichealth.nc.gov).
Since heat stress is preventable, it is important to recognize heat stress symptoms early and to pay attention to heat advisory warnings to make sure that you protect yourself and avoid unnecessary heat exposure.
So what can you do to stay cool when it’s hot and you need to get the yard work done?
1. Work in the garden early in the morning when temperatures are cooler. Avoid working outside in the afternoon, the hottest time of day.
2. Dress appropriately in clothes that breath and wick up the sweat. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
3. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids regularly and stay hydrated.
4. Work in the shade when it gets hot.
5. Wait until dusk when temperatures go down to mow the lawn.
6. Install a misting system in outdoor entertainment areas to stay cool while it’s hot.
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms connected to heat stress so that you can get help. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea, clammy skin, muscle cramps, pale skin, fast shallow breathing, and slightly elevated body temperature.
Heat stroke symptoms include hot dry skin or heavy sweating, chills, high body temperature, dizziness or disorientation, headache, slurred speech, and hallucinations.
If you or someone you are with experiences these symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, turn on the sprinkler or get in the shower quickly. In the case of possible heat stroke call 911 for help. Cooling off as quickly as possible is key. Drink lots of water and get into an air-conditioned environment as soon as possible.
Prevention is the key to having fun in the sun. For more information on preventing heat stress disasters go to www.ces.ncsu.edu/disaster/factsheets/pdf/heatstress.pdf.
Michelle Wallace is the Consumer Horticulture Agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Durham Co.