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A Happy Halloween Means Safety First

Key precautions can help to ensure your child's well-being

FRIDAY, Oct. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Halloween costume? Check.

Goody bag? Check.

A head full of safety tips? Safety tips?

Yes, safety tips.

Before letting your little trick-or-treater loose this Halloween, make sure he or she is armed with a checklist of "dos" and "don'ts" that will make for a safe and fun-filled night for all.

Topping the list -- be sure your child can safely navigate the neighborhood, especially once darkness has settled.

An average of four deaths among children aged 5 to 14 years occurred on Halloween between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. every year from 1975 through 1996, compared to an average of one death during those hours on any other night of the year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news this year is that Daylight Savings Time doesn't end until Nov. 4, four days after Halloween, said Dr. Seema Csukas, director of child health promotion at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. That means more light this year than in years past. But children will still need supervision when they walk from house to house, she said.

"Any little bit of light that we can get on this night when so many children are out is a plus, but that doesn't take away from the need to be safe and careful," Csukas said. She also suggested that parents talk to their children a few days before Halloween, so everyone knows the rules ahead of time.

Her recommendations for parents and children:

  • Map out the trick-or-treating route beforehand.
  • Stick to familiar neighborhoods, and no darting between parked cars.
  • When crossing streets, stay on designated crosswalks.
  • Give children flashlights or glow sticks to carry for visibility, or attach reflective tape to costumes.
  • Approach houses from well-lit driveways and sidewalks, rather than dark lawns.

With so many children walking around in the dark on Halloween, families should clean up their yards -- rakes, bikes, garden hoses and the like should be put away, and outside lights should be turned on so kids won't fall. Drivers, too, should slow down and keep a careful eye on the road to avoid excitable children who might run into traffic without looking.

"Kids get excited, and adults do as well, and we want them all to enjoy the evening and enjoy it safely," Csukas said.

Costumes should also be assembled with an eye toward safety, Csukas said. Masks should have big eye holes to give kids as much peripheral vision as possible, and costumes should be short enough to allow walking without tripping. Shoes shouldn't be so big and unwieldy that kids can't walk properly.

Most store-bought costumes are made of flame-resistant material. But homemade costumes aren't necessarily flame-proof, so special care should be taken around pumpkins lit with candles. And stay away from sharp objects -- any make-believe swords, pitchforks, knives and the like should be made of soft material.

Then there are the treats themselves. Parents should check the candy bags when their kids get home. Parents whose children have food allergies should remove candies that could trigger reactions in their kids. And parents with younger children should look for small items that could cause choking if swallowed. Also, be cautious about homemade treats. Commercially wrapped candy bars that show no signs of tampering are safer.

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and president of the American Dietetic Association, said that when children have a bag full of Halloween treats, their natural inclination may be to devour as much as they can as quickly as possible. In order to control consumption, parents need to do some pre-planning, she said.

"Start ahead of time. The day before Halloween start talking to your kids about all the treats they are going to get. Talk about how fun it would be to divide up candy, so it can be enjoyed over several days," Diekman said in a prepared statement.

Dividing treats into small packages that can be eaten over an extended period of time prevents overindulging and gives children something to look forward to over the coming weeks.

Here are more safety tips, courtesy of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the U.S. National Safety Council (NSC), the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI):

  • Over-the-counter decorative contact lenses as part of a Halloween costume can lead to serious eye problems like inflammation, pain, corneal abrasions and even blinding infections, the AAO warns. To protect eyes, lenses should be fitted by an eye-care professional.
  • Make sure your child brushes his or her teeth after eating Halloween candy. Treats like sticky taffy and gummy bears are less likely to be washed away by saliva, and long-lasting lollipops and hard candies keep sugar and preservatives in a child's mouth, increasing the risk for cavities, according to the ADA.
  • If your child has allergies, the AAAAI suggests handing out allergy-safe candies to neighbors beforehand, so they can give them to your child when he or she comes trick-or-treating. Do the same for classroom Halloween parties by packing treats from home for your allergic child.
  • Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk and soy are the most common causes of food allergies in children. Allergic symptoms include headache, nausea, sneezing and coughing, hives, swelling of lips, tongue and throat and itching. More dangerous symptoms can be difficulty breathing, hoarseness or a lump in the throat or tingling in hands, feet, lips or scalp. If your child exhibits any of these latter symptoms after eating, he or she could be having a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, and you should call 911 immediately, according to the AAAAI.

More information

For more Halloween safety tips, visit the National Safety Council.

SOURCES: Seema Csukas, M.D., Ph.D., director of Child Health Promotion, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta; news releases, American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco; U.S. National Safety Council, Washington, D.C.; American Dental Association, Chicago; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Milwaukee; Washington University, St. Louis

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