MAYWOOD, Ill. – The scary reality is that food allergies are becoming more and more common in the United States. In the past 10 years the number of children with food allergies has increased 18 percent. In fact, 6 to 8 percent of children have at least one food allergy. That means, on average, two students per classroom have a food allergy. Halloween parties and trick-or-treating are just a few of the end-of-fall activities that can heighten the danger for kids with food allergies.
“Food allergies can be tricky,” said Joyce Rabbat, MD, pediatric allergy specialist at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Just because a child had a mild reaction, such as a rash, the first time doesn’t mean it can’t be more serious the next time."
Reactions can cause symptoms that range from watery eyes and a rash to anaphylaxis, which is a rapidly progressive and severe allergic reaction that can involve airway swelling and a drop in blood pressure. This can hinder breathing and cause a person to lose consciousness.
“While nut allergies have the reputation for causing severe reactions, any food allergy could result in a severe reaction like anaphylaxis,” Rabbat said. “Halloween candy often contains common allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk and egg."
Here are a few tips to help keep your child safe at Halloween parties:
- Plan food-free Halloween activities, like costume contests and games.
- Communicate with the party host about your child’s allergy and provide a list of specific foods that may cause a reaction.
- Make sure all pans, dishes and serving utensils have been thoroughly cleaned if previously used with the allergen.
- When shopping, check product labels. If it says the food has been made on the same machine as with the allergen, stay away. If it is processed in the same plant as products with the allergen, it’s probably OK.
- Wipe down all surfaces after preparing or eating allergenic foods.
Here are a few ideas for keeping trick-or-treating safe for children with allergies:
- Don’t let your food-allergic child trick-or-treat alone and make sure the child has self-injectable epinephrine on hand.
- As soon as your child returns home go through the candy and separate out all treats with allergens or those that could cause a reaction. When in doubt get rid of the candy. It’s always a good idea to check your children’s candy after trick-or-treating, even if they don’t have an allergy.
- Be careful with “fun size” candy, as they may contain different ingredients than the regular-size package.
- After you, a friend or relative have eaten a product with an allergen, be sure to brush your teeth and wash your hands before hugging or kissing a child with an allergy.
- “Although having a food allergy is serious, kids should still be able to have fun. The key is education. Make sure your children know what they can eat. When in doubt, throw it out!” Rabbat said.