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For the six million children with food allergies, haunted houses and spooky costumes aren’t the only scary parts of Halloween. An allergic reaction from sweet treats can be frightening for both kids and their parents alike. Food allergies are on the rise, and traditional Halloween candy often contains peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg and soy. These are all common triggers of a serious reaction known medically as “anaphylaxis.”
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include: flushed skin, rash, swelling of the tongue, lips or throat, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, abdominal cramps and dizziness. These reactions can occur instantly or after several hours. If left untreated, a severe anaphylaxis reaction can result in death.
For many kids, ingesting or even touching treats containing certain foods can prompt a frantic trip to the emergency room. Fortunately, a lightweight and portable device called an epinephrine auto-injector can reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis within minutes. Anyone with a diagnosed food allergy should always carry epinephrine.
It’s essential that parents and kids take a number of precautions to ensure a safe and happy Halloween when it comes to food allergies. Here are a few tips:
* Before your child trick-or-treats, consider distributing safe snacks to neighbors and ask that they be handed out to your child.
* Teach your child to politely refuse offers of homemade items like cookies or cupcakes.
* Enforce a strict no eating while trick-or treating rule. If possible, talk to your child’s friends in advance and also encourage them to refrain from eating any candies until the ingredient label can be checked.
* Avoid candies with a precautionary statement such as “May contain” if your child’s allergen is listed.
* Don’t assume that “fun-size” candy is safe, even if the full-sized version of a treat is allergen-free. Mini versions can sometimes contain different ingredients.
* Inspect all candy. Even if candy doesn’t appear to contain nuts, there is always the chance it was manufactured in the same facility as another candy that was made with nuts.
* Speak to your child’s teacher about a school party involving non-edible prizes, such as stickers or toys. Or, prepare treats from home that the whole class can enjoy.
* Always carry an epinephrine auto-injector when out trick-or-treating.
Safety is the key to a fun Halloween for all children, but most especially those with food allergies.
Dr. Natalie Beaven Miller is a physician with Family Allergy & Asthma. She sees patients in the Lebanon office.