Halloween is supposed to be fun and just a bit scary. But for children with food allergies and their families it can be just plain scary.
Food allergy affects an estimated 32 million Americans, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18. That’s 1 in 13 children! The most common food allergens are milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. As you can imagine, outside of fish and shellfish, any of these triggers may be found in Halloween candy treats. Symptoms of a food allergy reaction may include a rash or red, itchy skin, vomiting, a stuffy, itchy nose, or diarrhea or stomach cramps. For children who are severely allergic, a single bite of these foods may cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is an allergic reaction that affects several parts of the body that starts very quickly and can be life-threatening. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
• Throat tightness, hoarseness or trouble swallowing.
• Trouble breathing, cough, wheezing of chest tightness.
• Feeling lightheaded, faint, or confusion.
Anaphylaxis can lead to shock and even death. If any symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, injectable Epinephrine should be given immediately and 911 called to activate EMS.
So how can food allergic kids have a safe Halloween? Here are a few ideas:
• Plan food-free Halloween activities like costume contests, games and pumpkin carving.
• Make sure allergic children don’t trick or treat alone and always have access to auto-injectable epinephrine.
• Make sure friends and family know about a child’s food allergy and how to respond to an emergency.
• Have a ‘candy check’ where parents check all trick or treat candies before your child eats any of the night’s spoils.
• Be cautious of ‘fun size’ candy as the ingredients may be different than the standard sized ones.
• Teach kids to politely decline homemade foods like cookies or know food triggers.
• Look for homes with a Teal Pumpkin out front. This means the home is part of the Teal Pumpkin Project and have safe, non-food treats available for Halloween.
Being careful and being prepared are the keys to making Halloween fun and not so scary for kids with food allergy.
By Dr. William McCann
Allergy Partners of Western North Carolina