For kids, Halloween means trick-or-treating, wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, and listening to scary stories. For pediatricians, Halloween means informing parents that pirate-type baggy costumes can catch fire if children come too close to jack-o’-lanterns lit with candles, that carving pumpkins is not child’s play, and that face paints may cause rashes.
1. Halloween is a scary holiday. About 4,000 individuals, a majority of them children, visit ERs each year with Halloween-related injuries. Many more injuries are treated elsewhere. About half of ER visits are pumpkin carving-related. Other visits result from adults falling while putting up or taking down decorations, children tripping on their costumes or falling while running over lawns in darkness, or traffic incidents.
2. Buy/make safe Halloween outfits. Costumes should be made from material marked “flame resistant.” Such material is unlikely to catch fire, and if it does the fire can usually be extinguished before serious burns occur. Accessories – masks, beards, and wigs – should also be fire resistant. Avoid costumes with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts. Costumes should be short enough to prevent children from tripping and falling. High heels cause accidents.
3. Other safety considerations. Make sure that hats, scarves and masks are tied securely lest they slip over children’s eyes, that eyeholes are sufficiently large to allow full vision, and that swords, knives, and other accessories consist of soft material.
4. Daylight is the safest time for trick-or-treating. However, traditionally, children prefer darkness. Dress children in bright colored items and trim costumes and bags with reflective tape. Supply children with flashlights. Wear a reflective vest yourself when accompanying trick or treaters.
5. Child proof your property. Consider using glow sticks to light pumpkins. Place candlelit pumpkins on sturdy tables, away from stoops where children walk, and away from curtains and other flammable objects. Keep outdoor lights on. Remove garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations from porches and front yards. Clear wet leaves or snow from sidewalks and steps. Lock up dogs. In apartment buildings, make sure that all trick-or-treaters get into the elevator together and insist that kids walk stairs in an orderly fashion.
6. Rarely, face paints cause skin reactions. Buy face paints in reputable stores; there are strict government rules about ingredients. Use only items meant for the face; nail polish is not. Test a dab of face paint on your child’s arm a day before Halloween. Check results. Avoid applying near eyes. However, a small amount of an approved face paint getting into a child’s eye or mouth is generally safe. Wash eyes with water to relieve discomfort. If necessary, call the poison control center or seek medical attention. Remove face paints when no longer needed to reduce the risk of allergies. Follow directions on labels for removing face paint.
7. Children should not eat candy until they get home. This allows you to inspect the candy. For young children, look for choking hazards – gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys, for example.Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance, discoloration, pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Discard items that are homemade or not wrapped. (Deliberate tampering of Halloween candy is an extremely rare occurrence. News stories about it occurring are often hoaxes.)
8. Carving pumpkins is not child’s play. Serious hand injuries occur. Allow young children to draw faces with markers. Pumpkin carving kits and knives specifically designed for carving are available for children and adults. Those for children need parental supervision. Before carving, dry your hands and the pumpkin; pumpkins are slippery when wet. Place pumpkins on solid surfaces. Never cut towards the hand that holds the pumpkin.
9. The risk of a child being involved in a serious pedestrian/car accident on Halloween night is twice the average of all nights. This statistic may be due merely to more children being out after dark. However, the excitement of trick-or-treating makes children forget street safety. And there may be increased drinking among drivers. Half of drivers involved in Halloween-related accidents are drunk. Help older children plan safe routes.
10. Miscellaneous. Decorative contact lenses are not recommended for children. Skip houses where entryways or stoops are not clearly visible or where there is a dog barking on the grounds or on the other side of the door. Barking dogs can frighten young children and cause them to react inappropriately.
Editor’s note: a Google search shows many articles on Halloween-related stomachaches. However, these articles are based on assumptions, not facts. If you know of any evidence-based articles on the subject, please let me know – for next year. KN