Nut Allergy Reactions Spike During Halloween: What Parents Can Do

  • Experts note that allergic reactions to nuts spike during Halloween due to children being exposed to treats they usually don’t eat.
  • Experts say parents should closely monitor their children’s Halloween activities, including holding the treat bag and checking what goes inside.
  • They advise parents to make sure they and their children are following COVID-19 safety precautions during Halloween activities.

The novel coronavirus isn’t the only risk facing families this Halloween. A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is reporting that there is an 85 percent increase in peanut-related anaphylaxis during Halloween.

A 70 percent increase in anaphylaxis related to unknown nuts was also reported. Most of these were previously unknown allergies.

That may be because research shows there’s a growing number of children are becoming allergic to nuts.

One reaction to a nut allergy is anaphylaxis, which is described as “a sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction where a person’s blood pressure can drop, breathing tubes can narrow, and the tongue can swell.”

“The difference in the anaphylaxis incidence among holidays may have been due to the social setting in which each holiday takes place,” the study authors write. “At Halloween and Easter, children often receive candies and other treats from people who may be unaware of their allergies.”

The authors suggest education and awareness may help reduce the risk of anaphylaxis.

Reducing nut allergy risks

If you’re unsure if your child has a nut allergy, talk to your pediatrician.

Gaining this information is essential in preventing and managing life threatening reactions.

Dr. Susan Besser, a primary care provider specializing in family medicine with Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea in Maryland, tells parents of children with nut allergies to make sure they have an EpiPen available.

Besser told Healthline that parents should oversee Halloween activities closely.

“You [the parent] hold onto the trick-or-treat basket so you can check the contents before giving it to the child,” she said. “Be sure to have a stash of safe foods you can add to the basket as you remove other foods.”

Dr. Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., shares a similar check-first strategy.

“Parents should review ingredients in treats collected before allowing their children to consume them,” she told Healthline.

She says “safe” foods can be alternative treats that parents know are OK for their children to consume. Small toys can also be a replacement.

Always avoid homemade goodies for which you do not know the ingredients, she adds.

COVID-19 and Halloween safety tips

This is also the first Halloween since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Experts are saying that modifications will likely need to be made to the usual Halloween procedures.

DeRoo lists ways to increase community safety:

  • Avoid parties.
  • Everyone should wear masks, which can be incorporated into costumes to add to the fun.
  • Carry hand sanitizer and monitor its use by children.
  • Follow physical distancing measures.

DeRoo says that risk will depend on local COVID-19 rates, individual risk factors, and how well communities adhere to preventive strategies.

“The CDC has released an interactive map with recommendations for safer activities depending on local risk. Every family will have to weigh their own individual risk factors and risk tolerance,” she said.

This reflects the larger picture of being in a pandemic.

“Even though it is Halloween, the nature of COVID-19 has not changed,” says Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida.

“Depending on where you live, Halloween can be a time where large crowds of people gather together, which could potentially increase your family’s exposure to COVID-19,” Moorjani told Healthline.

“I think we are going to see a spectrum of activity for this Halloween, with one end of the spectrum being that families may decide they are low-risk and want to participate in Halloween with no changes, and other families may feel that it isn’t worth the risk and decide to stay home,” she added.

If you stay home, don’t worry about your children’s mental health.

“Kids are extremely adaptable, as we have seen throughout this pandemic,” says Moorjani. “If their parents and family members help to create a positive experience that is still festive and safe, I think that many kids will be able to adapt and still enjoy Halloween.”

“Children adapt so well to change, and normalizing COVID-19 precautions and incorporating them into Halloween activities will assist with their adaptation,” added DeRoo.

Alternative ideas to trick-or-treating 

“This has been the year of wonderful creativity,” says Moorjani. “I think we are going to see families possibly create new family Halloween traditions.”

Moorjani suggested that if families want to eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, then they may not want to participate in Halloween in the traditional sense.

Instead, they can turn off their outside light and not open the door to greet trick-or-treaters.

But this doesn’t mean Halloween is canceled.

Some of Moorjani’s stay-at-home Halloween ideas:

  • Dress up in costumes at home.
  • Watch family Halloween movies together.
  • Create Halloween-themed treats or arts and crafts.
  • Purchase your kids’ favorite Halloween candy.
  • Create a scavenger hunt or an “Easter Egg hunt” in the house.

Besser added the idea of virtual trick-or-treating where the parents supply the treats.

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