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What is Dangerous or Safe This Halloween?

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Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson breaks down Halloween safety.

The story about keeping kids safe on Halloween is not new. But these days, there seem to be more and more hazards. Here's a guide to Halloween safety that offers traditional safety precautions -- with a twist.

Dangerous or Safe: Halloween Safety


Oversized superhero costumes and princess gowns dominate the young Halloween market. Regardless of what your child is dressed as, make sure the costume is flame-retardant. This includes wigs and accessories, too. The issue is that kids often stand close to jack-o'-lanterns lit with candles, and the costumes can easily catch fire. And avoid tripping hazards like long hems, improperly fitting shoes, and long wigs.

Props also pose potential dangers, like those swords with sharp tips. Make sure that tips are blunted, swords are soft, and nothing can impale.

Glow-in-the-dark accessories are fantastic. Reflective stickers attached to costumes make it easier to be seen at night. Glow sticks are a favorite because they are cheap, waterproof, and provide a good light source (while also illuminating the holder). But the liquid inside glow sticks made of dibutyl phthalate is meant to stay inside -- toddlers shouldn't be allowed to chew on them, and older kids shouldn't break open the sticks and use the fluorescent liquid as body paint. On the skin, dibutyl phthalate can cause redness and irritation; in the eyes, it can cause irritation and tearing; if absorbed in high enough doses through the skin or inhaled or ingested, it can cause burning in the mouth and nausea/vomiting.

Visit the Poison Control website for more information.

Face Paint

Most safety experts agree that face paint is safer than masks. Masks can limit peripheral vision or can even fall down completely, covering children's eyes.

• Losing the ability to see well is far more dangerous than a little makeup -- kids can trip, fall, even walk into a street and not see an oncoming car.
• If your child does wear a mask, make sure the eyeholes are sufficiently large and the mask is steady and in place.
• Despite concerns about chemicals, most face paints are safe and non-toxic. If you are concerned, though, the FDA lists each ingredient on its website. If an ingredient is not on the website list, that means it's not FDA-approved.
• Beware of allergic reactions: Some ingredients in face paints can cause swelling, redness, itching, or burning. It's a good idea to test a product before you use it.
• Remember that "non-toxic" does not necessarily mean "safe for skin" or "FDA-approved," and that "washable" refers to fabric, not to skin.

Trick-or-Treat Bags

There has been some debate over whether or not vinyl bags are safe because last year some vinyl lunch boxes were found to contain lead.

• As long as the candy is wrapped, these single-use bags don't present a problem.
• The bigger concern is the risk of suffocation with any bag. Try trading a plastic bag for a hard container, or even decorate a small pillowcase from home.


Historically, the main issue related to candy was the risk of choking. Anything the size and shape of a grape is a choking hazard for a young child under the age of 3 or 4.

• Remove all such candies from your young child's bag, and double check older siblings' bags.
• If you are supervising a child with a nut allergy, an EpiPen -- auto-injector for allergic emergencies (anaphylaxis) -- should be on hand.
• Don't allow candy consumption until the candy is checked.
• At your home, consider a nut-free candy bowl for trick-or-treaters or going nut-free altogether.

Dress-Up Jewelry & Accessories

For young children, jewels and accessories often represent choking hazards. This includes earrings, rings, and hair accessories.

• Most fake jewels these days are made of plastic, but non-plastic jewelry is often made of nickel, which is a common skin irritant.
• Try to keep metallic fake jewels away from the skin. Remember, too, that necklaces and hoods can be strangulation hazards.

Other Basic (but Important) Safety Tips

• To minimize candy overload, feed your kids dinner before trick-or-treating.
• Teach your kids to only go to houses where the lights are on, and to accept treats at the door but
never go inside a house
• Older kids should never trick-or-treat alone -- ideally, they will be with at least two friends, but groups of 3-5 are better.
• If you aren't trick-or-treating with your child, make sure you know their route and set a curfew. Cell phones can be carried in case of emergency.
• Road rules need to be reinforced on Halloween: look both ways before crossing the street; cross at crosswalks; walk on sidewalks, not in the middle of the street; and walk, don't run.

What's the bottom line?
Halloween can be great fun, but you need to be aware of basic safety issues. Make sure your kids cross at the crosswalk and stay on the sidewalk. Cars are really the biggest safety risk on Halloween.

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
J October 26, 2009, 6:06 AM

Thank you so much for making people aware of nut allergies - as a mom with a peaut allergic child this is always a big concern for me.

MarMar October 26, 2009, 10:46 AM

Yes, thank you! I have two types of candy and was going to just set out one big bowl - but as one has a peanut-butter filling, I’m thinking two bowls would be better. The kids can pick whichever they want, and avoid the peanut-butter one if they have to! I would’ve never thought of that, so thanks for the suggestion!

Ten Tees January 9, 2011, 9:30 AM

Nice site! Good to read. There’s a opinion to submit about funny shirts.

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