Trick-or-treat, be careful what you eat: Halloween illuminates dangers of food allergies
In this season of sweets filling jack-o-lanterns, bags and buckets, it’s important to remember that certain candies can have life-threatening consequences for trick-or-treaters with food allergies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 13 children in the United States has a food allergy. Milk, nuts and eggs—some of the most common ingredients in candy—can cause discomfort or reactions.
Food allergy symptoms can include a scratchy or itchy throat, lip tingling, tongue swelling, hives and shortness of breath. More severe reactions can result in urgent care or hospitalization.
TMC News spoke with Saffana Hassan, M.D., an allergy consultant with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, about managing food allergies during Halloween festivities. She offered five tips for having a safe trick-or-treating experience.
1. Trick-or-treat in smaller groups. That way, a child allergic to a specific food or ingredient can be monitored closely.
2. Trick-or-treat at homes where the occupants are known. Parents and caregivers can find out in advance what candy will be handed out.
3. Carry an EpiPen and be trained on its use.
4. Be cautious of “allergy friendly” candies. It’s a misnomer. While most candy labeled this way is free of eggs, milk and nuts, the child may be allergic to other ingredients. If a child sensitive to taffy, then taffy for that youngster is not allergy friendly—even if labeled that way.
5. Use a teal trick-or-treating vessel. The Teal Pumpkin Project was started by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) to raise awareness of food allergies during Halloween and to signal locations where gifted items aren’t edible. The campaign encourages handing out non-food trinkets and toys in lieu of candy or treats to make Halloween safer and more inclusive for all trick-or-treaters.
“I don’t think a lot of people know about this trend, but I think it is something we need to keep doing,” Hassan said. “It is making people aware. If we don’t push for it, people will not be aware.”
In addition to food allergies, the allergist also recommends being aware of environmental allergies this Halloween.
“We are in a very high ragweed and pollen season. If they have environmental allergies, that is something to worry about,” Hassan said. “We advise, in general, to decrease exposure, so they can wait until the evenings—when pollen are down—and have antihistamines handy.”