Florida, with its subtropical conditions, can reach temperatures that pose hazards to human health, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Because of that, it’s important to take precautions to protect ourselves when doing outdoor tasks, such as gardening, during warm weather.
Here are some preventative measures to keep in mind:
- Protect your skin with sunscreen. Be sure it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or more and that it blocks UV A&B rays. Be sure to apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before working outdoors and to reapply if you are working outdoors for long periods of time, or if you perspire a lot. Avoid sunburns, which make it harder for you to stay cool and comfortable.
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses.
- Wear lightweight, breathable clothing such as a light-colored, long-sleeved shirt and pants.
- Drink plenty of water, or other drinks that replace electrolytes in your body. A lack of water can lead to dehydration, which can become a dangerous condition. Be sure to stay hydrated. The hotter it is, the more fluids you will need.
- Do your work before it gets hot or after it cools down. The hottest part of the day is generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan strenuous work during the cooler hours of the day. Don’t work outdoors when there is a heat warning issued.
- Rotate your gardening tasks between heavy work and light work. For example, you could prune or saw branches and then switch to tasks such as weeding or deadheading flowers.
Take regular breaks and enjoy those breaks in the cool areas of your garden.
Of course, even with precautions, there’s a possibility you can become overheated, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, and how to respond.
For many of us, it may take some time to acclimate to work in hot weather.
Other personal characteristics such as age, weight, health and physical fitness can also be factors for heat stress.
The Florida Department of Health explains: “Individuals with heart conditions may not be able to tolerate the increased cardiac output leading to an adverse cardiac event.”
So, be sure to monitor yourself for symptoms of heat stress, especially if you are ill or taking medication.
Heat disorders occur when your body cannot rid itself of excess heat, which may be caused by overexertion, such as exercise or garden work, or, overexposure to heat.
Symptoms of heat cramps include painful muscle spasms of arms, legs or abdomen, sudden onset of pain/muscle cramps, heavy sweating and hot/moist skin.
Heat exhaustion is a more severe type of heat disorder. Its causes include dehydration or inadequate time to become acclimated to outdoor work.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating, intense thirst, pale/moist/cool skin, rapid pulse, fatigue, weakness, headache, dizziness, fainting and/or collapse.
Heat stroke is the most severe heat disorder. It occurs when your body’s system of temperature regulation fails and body temperatures reach dangerous levels. Signs and symptoms include high body temperature, lack of sweating, hot/red/dry/skin, rapid pulse, chills, difficulty breathing, confusion, disoriented weakness and unconsciousness.
When you or someone you know experiences a heat disorder, it’s important to know what to do.
- Stop working if you experience sudden and severe fatigue, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.
- Pay attention to your body if you stop sweating, and your skin becomes hot and dry.
For minor issues, such as heat cramps, drink water, massage the cramped area and rest.
For heat exhaustion, move to a shady location or air-conditioned space. Rest. Drink water. Lie down with your legs elevated.
When a person experiences heat stroke, call 911 for emergency responders. While help is on the way, keep the person cool with ice.
Ninety percent of all heat-related illness emergency department visits occur during the warm season, according to the Florida Department of Health.
As we move into summer, plan ahead and use care when working in your landscapes.
Practice common sense and remember: Take breaks if you feel tired. Be sure to wear protective clothing and sunscreen. Listen to your body. Rotate garden tasks with varying levels of intensity, and stay hydrated.
Nicole Pinson is an Urban Horticulture Agent in Hillsborough County. She gratefully acknowledges Gerri Almand, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County Master Gardener for her help in preparing this article. For additional information, you can reach Pinson at (813) 744-5519, ext. 54145.
Published May 30, 2018