An assortment of candy

Having a fun, safe Halloween for kids with food allergies

Sensitivity to certain treats doesn’t have to dampen their spooky spirit
October 22, 2018

For kids, Halloween is a magical night when they can dress up as their favorite superhero and go trick-or-treating to get tons of candy from their neighbors. However, for children with food allergies and their parents, a little extra work has to be done to ensure a safe Halloween. This holiday can be nerve-wracking because many popular treats handed out contain common allergens.

Fun on Halloween

“Parents can still have a fun and safe Halloween for kids with food allergies,” said Priscilla Benavides, a registered dietitian with the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center. “For example, instead of focusing on what their child can’t have, parents can put more emphasis on other fun aspects of Halloween, such as their kid’s costume.”

While trick-or-treating, parents can keep their kids from eating goodies containing allergens by gently reminding them of the foods they can and cannot eat. Parents should also tell their children to wait until they’re home before eating any candy. This way, their “loot” can be sorted and the allergic foods can be weeded out.

“You can make sorting into a game with your kids,” Benavides said. “For instance, you can offer to ‘buy’ each piece of unwanted candy for five cents. Or you can trade each piece out for candy that is safe for your child to eat.”

Teal-colored pumpkins

The Teal Pumpkin Project, created by the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization, promotes inclusion for those who have food allergies or other health conditions that could prevent them from eating certain foods.

If you would like to let trick-or-treaters know you are promoting a safe Halloween by giving out non-allergic candy or other non-food treats, place a teal pumpkin by your door step. You can add your location to the 2018 Teal Pumpkin Project Map so those with allergies know you’re participating in the campaign.

Some inexpensive, non-edible treats to hand out are glow sticks, pencils, stickers or other small toys.

House party

One way to avoid coming into contact with allergens is to host a Halloween party. Having a get-together at home allows parents to have more control over what treats are given out.

Parents can plan fun activities for the party, such as a costume contest, scary storytelling or a scavenger hunt.

If parents still want to take their kids trick-or-treating, they can have the party the weekend before Halloween.

Spotting common allergens

“Most people know that peanuts and tree nuts, like almonds and walnuts, are common allergens found in candy,” Benavides said. “Other allergens found in Halloween candy are wheat, eggs, soy and milk.”

Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food companies to include allergy warnings on their labels, the ingredients in treats can change without notice.

“Parents should read the candy’s label every time,” Benavides said. “If parents can’t read the label, or if they receive a homemade food without an ingredients list, it’s best to play it safe and throw the treat away.”

Benavides says parents need to read food labels every time they’re at the grocery store. This is because candies that don’t contain allergens could still have come into contact with allergens during manufacturing.

Signs of an allergic reaction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of common reactions to food allergies. Symptoms include swollen lips, tongue or eyes, itchiness or rash, nausea, vomiting, nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing, pale or blue skin color, dizziness and confusion.

“Signs and symptoms can become evident within a few minutes or up to one to two hours after ingestion of the allergen, and rarely, several hours after ingestion,” according to the CDC.

The CDC says severe reactions occur when the food allergen is ingested. However, even inhaling or touching a food allergen can produce mild to severe reactions.

Children don’t always show visible signs of an allergic reaction. Sometimes they are unable to communicate a reaction because of their age or a developmental issue. Therefore, it is important to know common complaints associated with an allergic reaction. Common reactions include complaints of abdominal pain, rash or other discomforts.

In severe cases of a reaction, the individual can experience anaphylaxis. This type of reaction causes a person’s immune system to discharge chemicals that can cause the person to go into shock. The person’s blood pressure drops suddenly and their airway narrows, making it difficult to breathe. A person suffering from anaphylaxis needs treatment right away. Emergency treatment includes an epinephrine shot and an emergency department visit. Without prompt treatment, a person with a food allergy can die if the reaction is severe enough.

“Planning for an allergen-free holiday has a few extra steps,” Benavides said. “But by changing up a few traditions, you can have a fun and safe Halloween.”

— Leslie Cockrell

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