How to - The Healthy Gardener

First aid for gardeners

What you need to know to stay safe in the garden

Sunstroke and heat stroke
While commonly thought to be two different conditions, sunstroke and heat stroke are actually the same thing, cause by too much exposure to the heat and sun. Heat or sunstroke is a progressive condition, beginning with heat cramps, moving to heat exhaustion and ending with the potentially fatal heat stroke.

“Heat cramps are usually caused by physical work in a hot environment,” Johnson says. “The cramps are often in the legs, with excessive sweating.” If you notice these symptoms, get out of the sun immediately, find a cool place to rest and drink as much water as you possibly can.

Heat exhaustion is a step above heat cramps: “You have excessive sweating, you might be dizzy, you might have trouble seeing, headache,” Johnson says. Signs of shock also become apparent, with cold, clammy skin, rapid shallow breathing, nausea, and even fainting. If you notice any of these symptoms, get out of the sun right away and find a cool place to drink as much water as you can.

Worst-case scenario: If a person suffering from heat cramps or heat exhaustion has flushed, hot, dry skin, or has fallen unconscious, heat stroke has occurred. “As soon as you have someone unconscious, it doesn’t matter what the cause, that is an immediate call to 911,” Johnson says. Get the victim out of the sun, and in the event that help is slow coming, such as in rural areas, cool them down: cover them with wet sheets or towels, set up fans, do whatever you can to lower their body temperature.

When to go to the hospital: If symptoms of heat cramps or heat exhaustion don’t subside, or if the victim passes out, immediately seek medical attention.

“Sunburn is like any burn, and the thing you want to do is cool the burn down,” Johnson says. “You should put cool compresses on the burn, cool towels or cloths, whatever will soothe the burn.” If the sunburn is mild, an over-the-counter ointment or lotion will help take some of the sting out of it.

Worst-case scenario: If a large area of your body is burned or your skin is blistering, you need to see a doctor. Never pop blisters: “It’s always better not to break blisters if you can avoid it,” Johnson says, noting blisters are notorious for getting infected.

“The real goal of first aid, and it doesn’t matter what environment you’re working in, is prevention,” Johnson says.  And while you can’t always foresee every accident that can happen in the garden, with this handy guide, you will be ready for it.

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