All the Halloween sweet treats, fun costumes and spooky decorations are fun for parents and kids, but those same holiday staples can be truly frightful when it comes to children's allergies.
Parents know that candy can be dangerous, especially for children with certain food allergies, but there are other Halloween-related items that could cause unexpected asthma and allergic reactions.
Allergists advise parents to be aware of the triggers on the following pages so allergies and asthma won't interfere with holiday fun.
|Candy and other Sweets|
"The most common childhood allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, eggs and milk, and these are certainly in a lot of candies," said Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
"The main thing would be for kids not to eat anything that's given to them without checking with their parents," said Dr. Henry Milgrom, professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Medical Center in Denver.
One of the most important things to do is to check what's in the candy. That's especially true, allergists say, if candy or treats don't have ingredients listed on the labels or have no labels at all.
"Be a label detective and learn how to decode labels," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a fellow of the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone School of Medicine.
The ACAAI warns that "fun size" candy may contain ingredients that the full-size versions don't have, or they may be manufactured in factories where there are allergens present. These mini-candy bars may also not have ingredient labels on them.
Experts suggest working out a trade system with children so they can exchange candy they can't have for candy that's safe to eat, or even trade it in for a different item or activity they enjoy.
If parents suspect their children may have food allergies, they should avoid any candy or baked goods with unknown ingredients. Children should also be taught to politely decline homemade treats.
Parents should also carry emergency medication with them, such as an epinephrine auto-injector and antihistamines.
"You can also bring safe snacks with you and eat dinner before you go trick or treating," said Bassett.
Allergy specialists say food allergy triggers are their biggest concern on Halloween, but there are other items that can dangerous reactions in children.
The ACAAI considers costumes another potential Halloween hazard.
"Watch out for nickel in costume accessories, from cowboy belts and pirate swords to tiaras and magic wands," the academy warns. "Nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, which can make skin itchy and spoil trick or treating fun." Parents should also check costume labels in case of latex allergies.
They also recommend washing old Halloween costumes in hot water if they are going to be re-used.
"Halloween costumes packed away in a box for months can be laden with dust mites, which trigger asthma and allergies," the ACAAI said.
The ACAAI also warns that masks should never be tight-fitting and impair breathing, especially if a child has asthma.
Decorations kept in storage can also harbor mold and dust, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. They should also be thoroughly cleaned and dried before being used again, and rather than storing them in their old boxes, they should be sealed in plastic bags and kept in airtight containers or clean boxes.
Kids may be excited about their Halloween transformation into vampires or zombies, but some of the makeup they use could trigger skin allergies.
"We do see a lot of people that go to Halloween parties and come in later iwth facial rashes, swelling or have skin allergies or contact dermatitis," said Basett. "Makeup contains preservatives, fragrances and other things."
Face paints should was off easily, and hypoallergenic makeup is the best option, according to National Jewish Medical Center.
Children prone to red, itchy skin or eczema should not wear any kind of greasy face paint.
The ACAAI recommends using better-quality theater makeup, and also suggests testing makeup on a small area of skin before Halloween, since it can take a few days for an allergic reaction to occur.
While fog machines can help create some scary holiday fun, they can also be dangerous for some children.
"Fog -- real or man-made -- can trigger asthma in some sufferers," said the ACAAI.
"The simulated 'fog' produced may often aggravate allergies (nasal and/or eye), sinus problems and asthma," said Bassett.
The chemical can irritate the airway, similar to smoke and other air polluants, he explained.
"In many cases, it may be prudent to avoid direct and/or prolonged exposure in young children, especially those without ideal asthma control."
Kids love the excitement of dressing up and scoring a bucket of Halloween loot, and they may also get a thrill out of Halloween-themed haunted houses or other fright-filled events.
But those same emotions that are part of the holiday fun can also lead to breathing problems in some children.
"Emotions, such as excitement, can actually trigger an asthma attack in some children," according to National Jewish Medical Center.
Being out in the cold air and running from house to house can also trigger asthma.
But just because some elements of traditional Halloween could bring about respiratory problems, that doesn't mean kids and adults can't have fun as long as they're prepared.
"The most important thing is to plan ahead," said Bassett. "Whenever possible, have your rescue inhaler medications on hand."