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How to take the fright out of food allergies this Halloween

Sweet! Seven surprises you don’t know about Halloween

Facts and figures relating to Halloween candy, costumes and traditions.
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Facts and figures relating to Halloween candy, costumes and traditions.

Ghosts and goblins aren’t the only scary things your children might encounter this Halloween. For parents of kids with food allergies, Halloween treats can be equally frightening.

Common allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, milk and egg are often ingredients in holiday treats. Some kids may experience a rash or red, itchy skin, vomiting, a stuffy, itchy nose, or diarrhea or stomach cramps if they eat a food to which they are allergic. For children who are severely allergic, a single bite of these foods may cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

It’s also important to note that some non-food items still contain allergens, so always choose candy-free alternatives carefully. Play-Doh, for example, contains wheat, and some toys are made of latex, which can also cause allergic reactions.

An anaphylactic reaction typically affects more than one part of the body, and can happen very quickly. Signs of anaphylaxis can include:

  • A lump in the throat, hoarseness or throat tightness
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing or chest tightness
  • Tingling feeling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shock

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, use your auto-injectable epinephrine and call 911 immediately.

Tricks for (alternative) treats

Families who have children with food allergies need to take extra precautions when trick-or-treating. All kids should be able to enjoy a festive time without worrying about missing out on what everyone else is doing. When planning your frightful festivities, consider the following:

  • Enlist the help of others. Talk to neighbors, family, and close friends about your child’s food allergies and safe options they could offer your child on Halloween. You may even wish to purchase the items yourself so these trusted adults can have them on hand for your child. Depending on your child’s age, needs and your own comfort level, you may want to only go trick-or-treating at these prescreened homes.
  • Trade unsafe treats. If you choose to allow your child to trick-or-treat freely, offer to trade unsafe items for safe treats or a special prize, such as a book or toy. Let your child know that he or she will not be allowed to eat any treats without you checking the label and approving it first.
  • Have a food-free Halloween. Hand out non-food treats to trick-or-treaters. You may find that your house is the busiest house in the neighborhood by supplying fun and unusual treats.
  • Throw your own party. Consider holding a Halloween bash at home and invite your child’s friends. Children can wear their costumes; create handmade crafts and dance to spooky music. There are many craft ideas available on sites such as Pinterest that are fun, easy to make and inexpensive. Hosting a party provides you the control to serve only food that is safe for everyone (if you choose to serve food).
Maggie Ellis, PA-C, is a physician assistant with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.
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