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Master Gardener Scoop: Summer Dangers – Heat And Sun

By Will Summers, Master Gardener

So far this summer, we have experienced widely variable temperatures. Weather conditions across America have been extreme. Is this normal? Who can say? All we know is “Just wait, and the weather will change.”

It is healthy for all people to be active outdoors. Regrettably, too many people, especially our youth, will spend their summer indoors, in air-conditioned comfort. Gardeners are most concerned with two risks: sunburn and heat exhaustion, which are accelerated by warming summer weather. Master Gardeners encourage people to spend more time outside. This includes all gardening-related activities, but be careful to do it without injury.

What is heat stress? Excessive exposure to high temperatures, especially when combined with high humidity and hard work, combine to create health problems. Heat stress turns into heat stroke with high body temperature at 102°(F) or above.

Symptoms may include skin that is hot to the touch and bright red; headache; dizziness and fainting; blurred vision, ears ringing; erratic, rapid, shallow breathing; rapid heartbeat either weak or strong pulse; confused and disoriented; slurred speech; nausea or vomiting; perspiration stops and skin becomes hot but dry to the touch. Ultimately, victims may develop seizures and lose consciousness

Treatment: Remove the person out of the sun, remove excess clothing, give water if conscious, wet the body with cool water or compresses and fan to increase cool air movement. Provide ample cool water, but avoid all sweet or caffeinated beverages. Seek immediate medical attention.

Sunburn occurs after repeated over-exposure to sunlight. Damages are cumulative. Sunburn starts with exposure of persons in early age. Dark skin pigmentation absorbs damaging ultraviolet rays and may lessen or slow damage. Lack of pigmentation, as with pale-skinned people, increases your chances of sun burning more easily with less exposure. The damage from sunburns continues to occur hours after a person is removed from direct sunlight due to penetration of sunrays and heat into lower skin layers.

Greater exposure kills skin cells. With minor exposure, skin is warm. Greater exposure leaves skin pink to reddish pink, similar to any burn symptom. Skin redness creates a situation known as “1st degree” burns.

As with other types of burns, prolonged exposure creates blisters, swelling and pain associated with “2nd degree” burns. Blisters occur when surface cells die and plasmas leak between the surface layers. If left undisturbed, new skin is created under protective blisters. Do not break open blisters, since this subject’s replacement skin to infection. If blisters are broken, remove dried skin and apply approved sunburn ointment.

Continued sun exposure ages skin prematurely and increases excessive wrinkling. Skin cancer eventually may occur after repeated, prolonged or damaging sun exposure.

Gardening – Always wear protective sunscreen skin ointments and loose, light-colored clothing such as long sleeves, brimmed hat and gloves. Always protect any exposed skin and limit exposure to direct sunlight and high temperatures.

Perform as much work as early in the morning as you can muster. Work before eating a late breakfast or going to work. This may make you more productive and get your day off to a good start.

Please save the exertion, heavy lifting and sweating for early morning, then relax and refresh when it gets hot.

This summer, put down your electronic devices and get outside, but be safe from sun and heat and healthy in all ways.

For more gardening information, please contact your local U of I Master Gardener or your local Extension office.

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