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Keep your Halloween happy

• Allergies, costume problems can potentially ruin the fun

October 20, 2013
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

It seems even the experience of a little traditional Halloween season trick or treating can easily become the stuff of nightmares and life threatening ordeals, thanks to the increased frequency of Americans developing allergic reactions. Things like nuts, peanuts, milk, chocolate, gluten, wheat, dust, wool, and many others - most of us seldom give more than a passing thought to being exposed to them in our day-to-day lives.

When it comes time for school-based Halloween parties and neighborhood trick or treat activities, it is also time for adults to ramp up their willingness to pay additional attention to details of everyday life having a direct or potential impact on a child they know suffers allergic reactions.

Long gone are the days when the local hospital happily agreed to provide timely access to an x-ray taken of a child's Halloween goodie bag in the hope that no foreign objects such as razor blade pieces, or some piece of things that have no business being there.

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Parents with children who have food allergies should educate themselves on alternatives for keeping their kids safe while trick or treating. Providing approved treats for the neighbors to give your children and checking with their doctor regarding safe foods are good places to start.

The primary safety points highlighted year to year when it comes to the public concerns about Halloween safety usually focus on someone purposely acting to harm another person, most often with tainted goods being passed out as though they were harmless candies.

Allergic reactions, however, can easily reach life-threatening intensity.

Today, one in 12 kids are affected by allergies to foods such as milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and more. That number translates to between six and eight million American children who deal with food allergies on a regular basis.

One of the scariest of all statistics concerning allergies is that the number of children suffering from a life-threatening peanut allergy has doubled in the last five years.

In more recent years, the true culprit can more often than not be found lurking in the shadows around increasingly powerful and well known enemies such as food allergies. Add into the mix things as traditionally troublesome as hard plastic toy swords or masks, a Jedi's light saber, Dracula's dramatic and oversized cape, a flimsy pair of high heels or a family heirloom Halloween costume that has been doing little more than gathering dust in the attic since it was first worn 30 or more years ago.

If you or your child has an allergy to dust or molds and if you're planning to resurrect a favorite costume or costume components, get them out of their secret hiding places early enough to allow for a run through the laundry, or at the very least, allow a reasonable time for airing out of the fabric while on an outdoor clothes line.

If a costume has literally been housed in mothballs and the person to wear it has highly sensitive skin, experts suggest you make another choice of wardrobe altogether.

Then there is the matter of all those goodies.

"Children with food allergies can enjoy Halloween just as much as other kids, but it takes planning and vigilance," shared Lynda Mitchell of Kids with Food Allergies.

At this time of year, there are countless opportunities for children with known allergies to fall victim to food allergies, but it is also easily a time when first time allergic reactions can be seen.

If your child has to deal with the realities of diabetes, asthma or food allergies, there is a great deal more information easily available via your family doctor, your local health department, school health officers or the Internet.

The important thing is to make every effort to educate yourself and your child about the dangers and about the alternatives available that will help keep them feeling a part of the class or their group of friends - not singled out because of their allergy.

If possible, have your child pick out what safe items they would like to find in their treat bags after making the rounds of the neighborhood, and consider providing those goodies to your neighbors for handing out specifically to your child.

Most importantly, never let children trick or treat alone, never let them eat goodies before an adult has checked them out for tampering, and always carry your child's emergency treatment medicine with you and keep your cell phone handy and charged.

Then there is the matter of wearing a mask - not a good idea at all, according to experts.

Consider foregoing the traditional Halloween mask, as it can make it hard for a child both to see and breathe. An easy alternative: paint your child's face with non-toxic makeup.

Vicki Lansky, author of "Baby Proofing Basics: How to Keep Your Child Safe," says you might want to consider making your own greasepaint at home. It's safe and inexpensive.

To make greasepaint, she suggests mixing two teaspoons of white shortening with five teaspoons of cornstarch and one teaspoon of flour. Add a little water or glycerin to thin the mixture and add food coloring. It shouldn't run but, like any commercial makeup, this homemade brew will smear if your little one rubs her face. If you suspect your child might have trouble keeping her hands off her face, apply the paint sparingly.

Halloween is no simple celebration observed by a brief walk through the neighborhood with a plastic bucket and a flashlight or standing as a sentry near a porch or front door illuminated by the universal signal to trick or treating youngsters that they are welcome to come calling in pursuit of a bounty of treats.

The more popular the season, the more likely complications tied to safety issues are going to crop up, if for no other reason than the increased level of anticipation that comes today with what are increasingly high-profile observances and activities.

Experts agree, parents and babysitters alike must be resolute in their commitment to what are literally common sense safety practices such as keeping those pesky melting face masks popped up and off the face, or when a costumed M&M wants to wear high heels (just like on TV) while trick or treating between the neighbor's households.

There are many time honored traditions of the season that can easily make for some memorable events and activities whether via a closed community event, a parade through school grounds or something more in keeping with a seriously haunted house venue.

Admittedly, there is little cuter than a baby or toddler out in their first Halloween costume.

Experts with the American Academy of Pediatrics offer some straightforward tips to help assure the memory of Halloween 2013 is a fun one:

Loccisano can be reached at



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