(CBS) — A little bit of a scare can be all in good fun for trick-or-treaters on Halloween, but the holiday can bring some serious hazards that are no fun at all. Halloween candies, costumes and other traditions can pose health risks you’ll want to avoid.
Follow this expert advice to have a happy — and safe — Halloween.
Halloween can be a scary time for kids with food allergies. Common allergens like nuts may lurk in many treats. If your child has a food allergy, check the food and candy labels carefully, and remind children not eat any home-baked goods they may have received.
The Teal Pumpkin Project, a campaign initiated by the non-profit organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), aims to raise awareness of these risks and offer some alternatives. The campaign encourages people to paint a pumpkin teal or download and print a free sign to place outside of their house on Halloween, to signal to kids with food allergies and their parents that there’s an allergy-friendly Halloween treat at those homes. The group suggests offering options like stickers, small toys, or costume necklaces instead of candy.
The number of homes participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project is growing each year. An interactive map is available online where families can locate participating homes in their area.
Candy is aplenty on Halloween, but the FDA warns not to overdo it on a specific treat: Black licorice. That’s because the old-fashioned candy contains a sweetening compound called glycyrrhizin, which can cause potassium levels in the body to fall. When this happens, some people can experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and even congestive heart failure.
Eating 2 ounces of black licorice (or three 1-inch pieces) a day for at least two weeks could be enough to land people in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia.
Black licorice can be particularly risky for adults over 40 and people who have heart disease or are at risk of developing heart disease, the FDA warns.
Choosing the perfect Halloween costume is a big deal for many kids, but there are certain things parents should keep in mind. The FDA recommends wearing bright, reflective costumes so children will be more visible to passing vehicles while trick-or-treating and making sure costumes aren’t too long to avoid tripping.
Make sure any store-bought costumes say “flame resistant” on the label, and if you make your own, choose fabrics that are flame resistant.
Avoid masks to prevent obscuring vision. Instead, opt for hats or face paint, but be sure to test any paint or makeup you plan to use in advance. To do so, dab a small amount on the arm of the person who will be wearing it. If a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation develop, that’s a sign of a possible allergy.
One of the most obvious health risks of a holiday revolving around an abundance of candy is overeating too many sweets. Gobbling too much sugar in one sitting can not only lead to a tummy ache but can also cause spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar levels. And of course, over the long run, this can lead to a host of health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The FDA recommends giving kids a light meal before they head out trick-or-treating and not letting them munch on any treats from their goody bags while they’re out.
Sort through their loot together at home and have them pick out their favorite treats. Experts recommend setting limits on the amount of Halloween candy they can eat each day, and pairing it with healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt or milk.
Costume Contact Lenses
While creepy zombie or vampire contact lenses may seem like a fun way to make a costume look frightfully realistic, doctors urge consumers to never to buy them from a Halloween shop. Contact lenses are illegal to sell in the U.S. without an eye exam and prescription from an eye doctor.
According to the American Academy of Opthamology, non-prescription costume contact lenses can cut, scratch and infect your eye if they don’t fit exactly right. More serious complications can include corneal abrasions, corneal ulcers and even blindness.
Colored contact lenses can be safe to wear year-round but only with a doctor’s prescription and guidance.
Safe Treats and Choking Hazards
Remind your children to wait until they get home to eat any candy so it can be inspected by an adult first. Don’t give kids any treats that aren’t commercially wrapped and look for any signs of tampering, including an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers.
For very young children, be sure to remove any choking hazards like gum, hard candies, and small toys.
A fog machine can add some spooky atmospherics to your Halloween decor, but make sure there’s adequate ventilation in the area and don’t pump so much fog that it’s difficult to see or breathe. The machines, which use dry ice or chemical additives in water to produce fog, may aggravate symptoms in people with asthma or other breathing issues.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology warns that short-term exposure “could trigger acute asthma symptoms including cough, wheeze, chest tightness and shortness of breath,” especially when the chemical glycol is used in fog machine fluid. Even people without asthma may experience headaches, dizziness, or eye irritation, the group said.