Food allergies don’t need to be the spookiest thing this Halloween. Preparation before heading out for trick-or-treating is key. For parents and children with food allergies, the prospect of receiving the variety of Halloween treats, such as packaged goodies, cookies and candy, can be scarier than even the most gruesome costume.
Although there are more than 160 foods that can cause allergy symptoms in those that are sensitive, there are eight foods known to cause more than 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies the eight allergens as:
Some of these allergens are common ingredients found in a variety of Halloween treats. These include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and eggs; however, others such as wheat and soy can be found as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, allergy symptoms may present as itching, stuffy nose, rashes, stomach cramps, and vomiting. Children with severe allergies can have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis that requires immediate medical attention.
Anaphylactic reactions can cause symptoms, such as:
- Nausea, vomiting
- Trouble breathing, shortness of breath
- Throat tightening
- A tingly feeling of mouth, lips, or tongue
- Loss of consciousness
If an anaphylactic reaction occurs, use an epinephrine autoinjector pen (if available) and call 9-1-1 immediately.
For those concerned about coming into contact with food allergens, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology recommends planning some food-free activities, like pumpkin carving, costume contests, and games. Also, children with allergies shouldn’t be left alone to trick-or-treat, in case of an allergic reaction. It’s important for parents to remember that their allergic child should always carry their epinephrine auto-injector pen with them in case of an emergency.
It’s important, too, to always be certain that any adult who comes into contact with your child, and friends of your child, understand what allergens to look out for and what to do in case of an emergency. This is particularly crucial because of the potential for unforeseen issues. For instance, although the “fun size” candies tend to be popular Halloween treats, parents should know that they can sometimes contain ingredients not found in larger size packages. This makes it even more important to be a judicious reader of label ingredients. Sneaky names for common allergen ingredients may be present in those sizes. When checking out labels, look for common allergen ingredient names in parenthesis next to the name of the ingredient used. For example, the label might say for an ingredient: Whey (milk).
Also, many food manufacturers list common allergens immediately next to, or below, the package ingredient list. Beware that homemade items, such as cookies and cupcakes, can contain hidden allergens and may not be safe to eat. Teaching your child to say “No thank you” to these items may help to eliminate this hazard.
So much more attention is paid to the potential health risks associated with food allergies. There’s the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), whose mission is to promote allergy awareness, advocacy and research for those with food allergies to gain access to better treatments and health information. FARE’s website helps promote a specific Halloween-related idea called the Teal Pumpkin Project. The Teal Pumpkin is an easy way for families and children with food allergies to trick-or-treat safely by using the FARE website to locate businesses and private homes that have added their addresses to state/city maps. Those that have chosen to participate in the project have promised to provide non-food items, such as small toys or games, in-lieu of food items. Homes that have not added their address to FARE map locators may still participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project by simply displaying a painted teal pumpkin or sign near the entrance of their home. This project can help to eliminate some of the stress associated with food allergy safety during Halloween.
There are many options available now to have fun, and allergy-free, Halloween.
Here are some good resources for people wanting more information about food allergies: