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If your child has food allergies, safely celebrating Halloween extends far beyond ensuring that your trick-or-treaters are visible to passing motorists. The wrong treat may result in itchy hives and rashes, severe digestive issues and, in the worst cases, anaphylaxis. What should be a fun and memorable night can turn into a trip to the local emergency room in a matter of minutes.

“Food allergies are very problematic at this time of year, despite a parent’s best efforts to control what their children eat on Halloween night,” said Geisinger pediatrician Marie S. Lena, M.D. “The best strategy is to be as careful as possible, and understand the early warning signs of potential allergic reactions.”

The symptoms of an allergic reaction

If your child has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, you’re likely aware of the symptoms. However, there is literally a treat around every corner during Halloween. Even if your child has never had a food allergy before, they may be exposed to something new that creates a problem for them. It’s important to know the symptoms of an allergic reaction so your child receives appropriate care before it progresses.

“A food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food,” said Dr. Lena. “It’s estimated that 6 to 8 percent of children under 3 years old have a food allergy, and as many as 3 percent of adults.”

The most common symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth.

  • Hives, itching or a rash on the skin.

  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat and other parts of the body.

  • Wheezing and trouble breathing.

  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.

The most serious reaction to a food allergy is called anaphylaxis. This condition can be life threatening. If your child experiences any of the symptoms of an allergic reaction, it’s important that you seek immediate medical attention as the symptoms can quickly progress to anaphylaxis.

Strategies to keep them safe on Halloween

Fortunately, there are several easy strategies you can use to keep your children with food allergies safe on Halloween. The most important one is to educate them about the dangers.

“Your child will be their own best line of defense against an allergic reaction,” said Dr. Lena. “Teach them to say ‘no, thank you’ to any food or candy they are unsure about.”

In addition to education, the following tips can help you avoid an unwanted allergic reaction on Halloween:

  • Choose a Halloween costume with gloves that provides an extra level of protection when handling candy.

  • Provide your neighbors with safe treats beforehand that they can give to your child during trick-or-treating.

  • Bring your child to visit relatives who understand their food allergies rather than visiting unknown houses in your neighborhood.

  • Look for houses that give out non-food treats like small toys and glow sticks.

  • Read all labels. Even candy that seems safe may not be if it’s produced in a facility that also makes candy that will create an allergic reaction in your child. If in doubt, throw it out.

  • Carry hand wipes in case your child touches a treat that may cause an allergic reaction.

  • Bring your child’s EpiPen with you when trick-or-treating.

“If your doctor has prescribed an EpiPen to help with your child’s allergic reactions, you should always carry it with you,” said Dr. Lena. “Remember that if you have to use it, you need to seek emergency medical attention immediately after administering it.”

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