Q. My child has a nut allergy. How can Halloween be safe, and still fun?
A: The arrival of Fall immediately triggers thoughts of Halloween for most kids. Halloween is one of the most eagerly anticipated “holidays” enjoyed by our children. I know for my children, many weeks (even months!) of planning go into choosing just the right costume. The excitement of trick-or treating and receiving all that candy is on the minds of American children everywhere. And while most children think of the ghosts, vampires and witches as the only terrifying part of Halloween, this is not the case for the 1 in 13 children in America who suffer from food allergies. These children and their parents are justifiably frightened of an accidental allergen ingestion.
Just one bite of the wrong treat can send these trick-or-treaters into a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. According to the Food Allergy Research and Awareness Organization (FARE), fifteen million Americans have a food allergy. The most common food allergens are milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nuts and shellfish. Many of our favorite Halloween treats do contain forms of milk, wheat, egg, soy, peanuts or tree nuts. For a child with a food allergy, contact or ingestion with one or more of these ingredients can trigger rashes, swelling of the lips and throat, severe vomiting, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and even death.
In order to keep all our kids safe this Halloween, I have listed a few tips for safe trick-or-treating. As a mom, and a pediatric allergist, I know for sure that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
1. Consider handing out non-food treats this Halloween. Many of these non-food items, such as pencils, erasers, crayons, playing cards, stickers, plastic toys and jewelry can be purchased inexpensively at party favor stores. Dentists everywhere and moms alike will appreciate it!
2. If your child has a food allergy, read the ingredients on EVERY item before eating (even if that treat has been eaten before). Subtle changes can occur in the manufacturing of candy and snacks at any time. It is important that your food-allergic child knows that he absolutely cannot eat a thing without first checking with an adult to ensure the item is safe. Consider swapping items with a friend if the ones received contain allergen. Never eat any items that do not list ingredients (even if it appears safe).
3. Host an allergy-friendly Halloween party. Neighbors and friends can attend the party rather than trick-or-treat. Plan some party games, play some Halloween music and serve safe treats. It is sure to be a fun time.
4. If your child has a food allergy, always carry hand wipes (in case of accidental skin contact with an allergen) and emergency medication such as antihistamines, inhalers, and epinephrine auto-injectors (in the event of accidental ingestion of a food allergen). Have a cell phone available to call for emergency services.
5. Consider purchasing some of your own allergy-safe treats to have at home in case the selection received by your food-allergic child is limited.
6. Remind your children it is ok to politely say, “no thank you,” if an unsafe treat is offered, and please don’t be offended if a trick-or-treater says that to you when offered a treat if can not eat. With food allergy rates doubling in the last decades, I guarantee we all know of, or have a child with food allergy.
Following some of these tips will ease the minds of your friends, children and family members. If we all pitch in we can help make it a safe and fun halloweeen for everyone. Now, I am off to plan those costumes and parties. Wishing you a non-scary Halloween!