Fiann Ó Nualláin offers simple, home remedies for prickly heat, heat cramps and heat exhaustion

WITH climate change continuing to evolve, it looks like we are in for a roll of the dice each new year on whether or not the summer will be a wash-out, or a drought.

But following on from recent temperature climbs and heatwaves I thought it timely to look at how we might develop some skills to survive hot summers — so over this week and next, I’ll look at what tricks we can employ. This week is about helping people and next week’s column is on how to save our plants from heat stress.

As gardeners out working in the heat, rather than under the shade with a good summer read, (psst, my new book is out soon, Gill, €10.99), we are prone to a touch of prickly heat.

That annoying rash is triggered by a buildup of heat between our skin and layer of clothing — causing the sweat ducts to become blocked and so swell and react in itching and prickles.

The best solution is to whip off your clothes and expose your skin to the air. I will testify on your behalf in court. But better to do so in the shade of your own home than in the front garden, public park, shopping center or workplace.

Prickly heat may last until you cool off but heat rash can last the heat wave — in that case more persistent rashing is traditionally treated with calamine lotion or a topical NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory). For more obstinate heat rashes. a twice daily spritz of diluted vinegar acts as skin-friendly NSAID and saves a trip to the doc and then to the pharmacy.

Prickly heat vinegar spritz

If you feel the effects of the sun, sit down and get into the shade immediately. Relax and read a book until overheating passes.
If you feel the effects of the sun, sit down and get into the shade immediately. Relax and read a book until overheating passes.

(From my fist book - The Holistic Gardener: First Aid from the Garden, Mercier press).

Simply dilute 50/50 some vinegar and water and decant into a bottle sprayer. Spritz the area twice daily. Some people experience a slight sting upon contact but it soon dissipates and takes the itch with it. Add some foliage of rosemary or lavender for extra cooling and further addressing of agitated skin, shake well before use. Will store in fridge (with extra bonus of the chill factor) for up to two weeks.

We gardeners are great at watering the plants and forgetting to water ourselves. Dehydration is no laughing matter — it is not just a strong thirst it’s the loss of electrolytes that control our muscles and some brain function.

Coconut water contains all five electrolytes so it’s good to have some in the fridge for heat emergencies. Caffeinated and fizzy drinks are not great to rehydrate you. If you don’t stay hydrated then you are making yourself susceptible to heat cramps. We gardeners are used to muscular pains and even occasional spasms triggered by heavy exertion or the steady loss of water and salt through excessive perspiration, Heat cramps, however, can take place in the abdominal muscles as well as the legs or arms. They can arise as a minor tremor or just happen as a full on event.

Don’t work through them or continue on after they dissipate. It is an indication that the day is too hot to be working in and that you have been neglecting your self health. If they occur,

retire to a cooler location and take in fluids — preferentially an electrolyte-containing sports drink or fruit juice with a pinch of salt, but water will do for starters. Don’t resume any strenuous activity for at least several hours after heat cramps have completely gone away. Sit down, but if cramps last longer than one hour,then medical supervision is advised.

Stop cramp smoothie

Anyone suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion should be given water or an isotonic drink. Cool the casualty down quickly.
Anyone suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion should be given water or an isotonic drink. Cool the casualty down quickly.

This will ward off the threat or treat the occurrence.

Simply add 500ml chilled unsweetened fruit juice of your choice (or whatever is in the fridge) to 250ml chilled water/coconut water to 1 cup of garden fruits/ berries, (the purple ones help your muscles recover quicker) and a ripe banana. Place all ingredients in a blender and blitz.

Decant into a glass with a little crushed ice. Sit back, relax and sip away.

What we are trying to avoid at all costs is heat exhaustion — a form of shock principally triggered in gardeners by a combination of dehydration and sustained gardening activity.

It manifests as heavy sweating or clammy skin with body/core temperature near normal but the feeling of being not quite right. Pupils may dilate (widen), headache and nausea may arise, leading to dizziness and potentially, vomiting.

Heat exhaustion can occur when the core temperature (the temperature inside the body) rises above the normal 37°C (98.6°F) towards 38-39°C (100-102°F) or higher.

The protocol is to retire to a cooler location (shade of a tree or interior with air conditioning). Remove some layers of clothing if overdressed. Direct cooling air with a fan or improvised fan, a newspaper wll do.It is okay to sip cool, but not ice cold water.

An isotonic drink or the smoothie above, would be helpful and a spritz of cool water on face and exposed skin is also beneficial. A damp towel or cool compress for the head, neck or face is relieving and reassuring.

Generally, these methods should make you or the casualty feel much better within 15 minutes, to half an hour, and without any further long-term complications. However, if no improvement seems to be happening, then place the casualty in the shock position (lying flat on their back with feet raised), call an ambulance and continue to fan.

Without treatment or abatement with first-aid, heat exhaustion could easily develop into heatstroke, which is a much more serious condition.

Heat stroke is the body in a severe stress reaction where it can no longer sweat or cool itself and so keeps on overheating.

Surviving summer in the garden

With heatstroke core temperature can elevate above 40°C (104°F) at which point the cells inside the body start to break down and internal organs can commence to shut down.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately. Call for help and dial emergency services to request an ambulance.

While awaiting ambulance get to a cool location (shade of a tree or indoors to air-conditioned room). Remove layers of clothing if overdressed.

Fan cool air and sip cool water — wrapping the person in a cool damp bed sheet will help to cool them quickly but not too rapidly to cause additional stresses/complications. Continue to fan until ambulance arrives.

Now fingers crossed, candles lit, chickens sacrificed, that it will never get that far. But we are an enthusiastic lot and sometimes we care more for our plants than ourselves or simply get lost in the gardening tasks and don’t notice the sunburn, or mounting perspiration.

There is no garden if there is no gardener so dress appropriately, work within reason, and keep hydrated.


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