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Watch out for extreme heat

Gyros and sausage sandwiches may be fair food favorites, but for the second straight year, extreme heat is the sizzling topic among most fairgoers.

It’s summer all right. The heat is making conditions stickier than fingers covered in cotton candy.

Older adults and people with chronic conditions are especially susceptible to suffering illness from the heat. Extreme heat can become life-threatening as it impairs our bodies’ ability to regulate temperature. It’s important to hydrate in the heat.

People 60 and older do not adjust as well to temperature extremes or sudden weather changes. Often, chronic conditions can upset normal body responses to heat, like perspiration. Prescription medicines also can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Being hot for too long can cause several illnesses, all grouped under the name “hyperthermia.” It is important to get to a cool place before heat exhaustion becomes heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

Symptoms of heat illness vary, but may include weakness, lightheadedness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, headache, unusual skin temperature or color, and disorientation. The most common types of heat-related illness include:

• Heat cramps — muscle cramps, most often in the legs, caused by not drinking enough to replace fluids and nutrients lost to sweating.

• Heat exhaustion — a potentially life-threatening condition caused by not enough fluids, hot environments and high body temperatures.

• Heat stroke — a life-threatening condition caused when the body is unable to regulate its own internal temperature in a hot and humid environment.

With the sweltering conditions, it’s important to remember to drink water. Food and drinks are one of the mainstays while attending a county fair, but you need to make wise choices. Despite being liquids, coffee (even if it’s iced), tea, soda and alcohol should be avoided as it can dehydrate you. Good old H2O is your best option with extreme heat.

The CDC suggests that during prolonged sweating lasting several hours, you should drink sports drinks containing balanced electrolytes.

Many people headed to a fair would rather spend money on food, rides or drop $20 playing games in hopes of winning a prize. If dropping a buck or more for water seems like a waste, just think about the cost if you require medical attention because you suffer a heat-related illness.

Some people will freeze a bottle of water and carry it with them, drinking as the ice melts.

I’m not suggesting you take a swig every time you wipe your brow, but the CDC recommends that if you’re in the heat and involved in moderate work activity, drink one glass (eight ounces) of water every 15 to 20 minutes. While that is a recommendation for moderate work activity, the definition of moderate and work varies for individuals who are older, have chronic conditions or take certain prescriptions.

If you’re not active, walking around the fairgrounds for a couple of hours can be a moderate work activity. It’s important to get relief from the heat before you begin to feel confused or faint. Older adults are encouraged to stay in air-conditioned buildings, eat regular meals, and drink plenty of fluids (are sensing a theme?)

Pay attention to your body and take periodic rests, seek shaded areas like the area with several picnic tables under trees near the grandstands. Better yet, head into some of the buildings like under the grandstand where you can visit me or other staff at Direction Home of Eastern Ohio’s booth. I may be biased but we have the best giveaway — a fan that folds so you can store it in your pocket or purse.

If extreme heat continues through the summer, people living in homes or apartments without air conditioning or fans are at risk. For information on home energy assistance (HEAP) or other resources, call Direction Home of Eastern Ohio at 330-505-2300, a local senior center or 211 for assistance.

If extreme heat becomes a common theme for the fair, the Fair Board may want to consider adding a sprinkler attraction. They would run out of tickets.

Solley is the director of communications for Directions Home of Eastern Ohio. For referrals or services, call the main office at 330-505-2300. Email Solley at lsolley@dheo.org.

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