Halloween Allergies

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The only spooky things about Halloween should be gory horror movies and haunted houses, but that sadly is not the case for millions of people. Recent statistics show that food allergies are on the rise. As many as one in thirteen school-aged children have serious food allergies, and unfortunately, this increase in the disease is met with a decrease of medicine. There has been a shortage of epi-pens following the angry response of the food allergy community to the wildly inflated prices of the life-saving injectors. Anaphylactic shock, the most severe form of an allergic reaction, manifests the following symptoms: Tingling/itching of the lips, tongue, mouth, throat; Swelling (particularly of eyes and lips) and hives; Stomach ache, vomiting, sharp abdominal pains; Dizziness, faintness, shortness of breath, feeling of panic; or Death.

Did that last one get your attention? Allergies are not a laughing matter, though those of us who suffer from them are often made the butt of jokes. Social and cultural events centered around food become difficult, excluding moments where the possibility of suffering a life-threatening reaction rises. Halloween is equal part trick and treat for the people who grew up holding their small sack of candy in one hand and their epi-pens in the other. In my case, my hands were gloved as an extra precaution. Pity Disney’s Frozen hadn’t yet been made.

As college students, the sorts of celebrations marking the last day of October have changed even if the dangers haven’t abated. If anything, we have an additional hazard undercutting the night’s festivities: alcohol.

Allergies under the influence… it’s not a good combination. For one thing, let’s think about the kind of effect drinks have on risk-taking behaviors. Now factor that into a poorly lit room, small printed ingredients labels (or no ingredients listed at all) on beckoning candy and a single bite reminiscent of Snow White’s poor choice in snack. What do you think the odds are that something could go wrong?

Besides the increased risk of consuming your allergen, there’s the fact that common anti-histamines used to treat allergic reactions will often interact poorly with alcohol. Benadryl has a strong sedative effect worsened by chemical depressants sloshing about in a red plastic cup. Administering an injection of epinephrine is also made infinitely harder by fuzzy vision, shaking hands and slowed reflexes.

I have seen too many pictures of dead children this year. There are teenagers who died breathlessly after a normal evening of take-out food with friends that went horribly wrong. There are elementary-schoolers who took one bite of a cookie or marshmallow bar treat that a grown-up promised them were safe… and then parents wound up burying their baby. People die every year from allergies in so many horrible, preventable tragedies. Read ingredients. Every. Single. Time. I cannot emphasize this more. Cross-contamination is common, recipes change and accidents happen. Taking a minute to read about what you’re putting in your body may well save your life. Try not to drink. I know, I’m not being any fun, but just don’t tempt fate on this one. Consider bringing your own snacks! Honestly, this is the safest way to satisfy your sweet tooth without inadvertently touring the ER. You could even make an event of it and try your hand at baking something new and fun. Halloween should be a happy, fun time. It isn’t fair that some of us have this extra burden weighing it down, but that’s simply the way it is. The best thing to do in response to it is to make sure that you are staying safe.