Halloween can seem like a minefield to families of children with severe nut allergies. An estimated 2.1 percent of children in the US are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts (peanuts are a legume, unlike a tree nut). In some cases, children have severe anaphylactic reactions to the initial exposure and experience a second reaction several hours later—a terrifying ordeal for them and their parents.
With so many items—especially Halloween candy—made in facilities that process nuts, it can be problematic to take a child trick-or-treating. Not to mention the anxiety of trying to keep that child safe at school, at Halloween parties and anywhere else he might be.
“The biggest risks on Halloween are exposure and reaction,” says Jennifer Lucas, whose nine-year-old son is severely allergic to peanuts. “There’s a lot of unsafe candy; it’s dark; it’s a fun night, and it could be easy to get carried away and not thoroughly check for safety.”
For parents of children with allergies, the key to managing Halloween is to take precautionary measures. Lucas’ son usually wears a costume with gloves to protect him from a contact reaction during trick-or-treating.
“We have a strict no eating policy while we are out collecting,” says Lucas. “When he was younger, and there was less ‘safe’ candy available, we still went trick or treating, but when we came home, I had a fun “exchange” bag of safe candy that I bought from Canada or other places online. His entire bag went immediately into his dad’s work bag, and my husband got it out of the house the next morning. Now, we dump, sort, and toss anything I’m not 100% sure about.”
Lucas cautions that the smaller “fun size” candy isn’t always individually labeled, and some companies make all of Halloween-size products – with and without nuts – on the same line, just for the giant Halloween bags.
“This can be scary and confusing,” says Lucas. “For example, individual normal-size Hershey bars are safe, but they make their small ones on the same line as tree nuts. You just have to be hyper-vigilant on Halloween.”
As with most things, awareness and education are the keys to increasing safety, and when the community gets involved to help families, everyone benefits.
“It’s a huge night,” says Lucas. “It’s a pinnacle of childhood fun, and we don’t want to squash that in any way, but it’s a very difficult night for parents of a severely allergic child. We’re grateful for any awareness and compassion.”
Community members can help by offering nut-free candy that hasn’t been processed anywhere near nuts. Or, better yet, offer alternative treats, like small toys that kids can play with as they’re out trick-or-treating.
“I would recommend homes have a non-nut or non-chocolate option available or purchase bags that have clear labels on individual pieces, so there isn’t any second guessing for parents and older kids who can read labels,” says Lucas. “A non-food option could be anything, from temporary tattoos or pencils to stickers or glow sticks.”