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A Happy Halloween Means Safety First

Por Janice Billingsley, Healthday Reporter -

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, make sure your child can safely navigate the neighborhood, especially once darkness has settled.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1975 and 1996 an average of four deaths among children ages 5 to 14 years occurred on Halloween between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. In comparison, during those same hours, an average of one death occurred on any other night of the year.

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

"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 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 are the following:

  • Map out the trick-or-treating route ahead of time.
  • Stick to familiar neighborhoods and no walking 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 their costume.
  • Approach houses from well-lit driveways and sidewalks rather than from 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 excited children who might run into traffic without looking.

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

Costumes should also be assembled with an eye on safety, Csukas recommended. Masks should have big eye holes to give kids as much peripheral vision as possible. 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. However, homemade costumes aren't necessarily flame-proof so special care should be taken around pumpkins lit with candles. Also, stay away from sharp objects. 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 bag when their kids get home. Parents with children who have food allergies should remove candies that could trigger reactions in their kids. In addition, parents with younger children should look for small items that could cause choking if swallowed. Also, be cautious with 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 receive. Talk about how fun it would be to divide up the candy so it can be enjoyed over several days," recommended Diekman 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 US National Safety Council (NSC), the American Dental Association (ADA), and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI):

  • The AAO warns that over-the-counter decorative lenses as part of a Halloween costume can lead to serious eye problems such as inflammation, pain, corneal abrasions and even blinding infections. To protect eyes, lenses should be fitted by an eye-care professional.
  • The ADA recommends that you make sure your child brushes his or her teeth after eating Halloween treats. Candy such as sticky taffy and gummy bears are less likely to be washed away by saliva. In addition, long-lasting lollipops and hard candies keep sugar and preservatives in a child's mouth, increasing the risk for cavities.
  • 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, 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. 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; US National Safety Council, Washington, D.C.; American Dental Association, Chicago; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Milwaukee; Washington University, St. Louis © Author rights 2007, ScoutNews, LLC


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