trick or treat

Trick or Trigger? Halloween Safety for Allergy Patients

I may be a Halloween treat hypocrite. Admittedly, I enjoy indulging in chocolaty treats on Halloween, but when it comes to choosing Halloween candy to pass out to little goblins and ghouls, I have a strange desire to save all the children from too much sugar. Instead of sugary delights, my husband Ben and I have passed out non-edible treats over the years – things like play dough, creepy toy bugs and spider rings. The little kids enjoy getting something different and parents often throw me an appreciative smile from the sidewalk.

A couple of years back, our passion for non-edible treats took on a whole new meaning. A mother of one of the trick-or-treaters thanked us for not passing out candy. She said that her daughter had a life-threatening peanut allergy. For their family, Halloween was a very stressful time. Her daughter really enjoyed dressing up and trick-or-treating with her friends, but she had to be extremely careful about which candies she accepted and even more careful about reading labels at home before indulging in her treats. Eating the wrong thing could mean life or death.

Like this girl, my patients with food allergies have to be extremely careful about avoiding their allergy trigger foods, especially around Halloween. Most families are very strict in their avoidance, yet accidents still happen.

The message of the trick-or-treater’s mom really hit home. It’s not the people with allergies that need to be reminded to avoid certain trigger foods; it’s everybody else.

Many Halloween candies contain common food allergens (i.e. peanuts or milk) or are processed in a plant or on shared equipment with food allergens. With up to 8% of children having life-threatening food allergies, giving food to children that are not your own is risky. It’s important to ask kids/parents if they have food allergies before giving them food, and Halloween should be no different. If this seems impractical with hoards of kids coming to your door, this Halloween consider the option of passing out a non-edible treat. You could even put out a sign “allergen-free treats” or put green bulbs in your front porch lights to signal the option of allergen-free treats at your house (green means “good to GO”). Trick-or-treaters with food restrictions and their parents will appreciate it. And I’ll be right there with you, passing out the safe treats, then eating my Snickers bar after the kids have gone to bed. If keeping kids safe makes me a Halloween treat hypocrite, I’m okay with it.

Check out these ideas for non-edible or alternative Halloween treat ideas or be creative and come up with one of your own!

Amber Patterson, MD
Amber M. Patterson, MD, works in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. As a wife and mother of 3, she is passionate about harnessing efficiency to create time. Her current projects to make allergy care more efficient include: researching intralymphatic immunotherapy (a new form of allergy shots), innovating allergy/immunology education, and inventing better ways to test and treat for allergies. Dr. Patterson wants to teach her patients how to feel better quicker and stay healthy longer. The Pattersons enjoy being outdoors (playing, biking, swimming, gardening), reading, and rooting for the Buckeyes. OH-!

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