Nut allergy emergencies skyrocket among young children during Halloween

MONTREAL, Quebec — For children, there’s no bigger candy jackpot than Halloween. While trick-or-treating brings in a wealth of sweet options, there can also be many hidden dangers lurking in those wrappers. A study of nut allergies finds more young children suffer a potentially life-threatening reaction to peanuts or other nuts during Halloween than any other holiday throughout the year.

A team from Montreal Children’s Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MCH-MUHC) says Halloween and Easter top the chart when it comes to candy-related allergy problems. Their study examined 1,390 youngsters visiting pediatric emergency departments between 2011 and 2020 in four Canadian provinces. The results reveal an 85-percent jump in children being rushed to the hospital due to peanut-triggered anaphylaxis on Halloween. Allergic reactions due to unknown nut products skyrocketed by 70 percent on both Halloween and Easter.

“Identifying certain times associated with an increased risk of anaphylaxis – a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction – could help to raise community awareness, support and vigilance,” says McGill medical student Melanie Leung and Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan say in a university release. “This information would identify the best timing for public awareness campaigns to prevent allergic reactions.”

The study also reveals these trick-or-treaters are usually around five years-old an over 60 percent are boys. The team finds allergy emergencies see no increase on other major holidays, such as Christmas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, or Eid al-Adha.

Knowledge is vital to keep kids healthy on Halloween

The study believes the tradition of trick-or-treating plays a major role in how these harmful treats end up in the wrong child’s hands. Most families visit homes and neighbors who aren’t familiar with that child’s allergy history. The candies themselves, especially one-bite treats, lack the proper labeling to make parents and kids aware of what’s inside.

“The difference in the anaphylaxis incidence among holidays may have been due to the social setting in which each holiday takes place,” Leung explains. “At Halloween and Easter, children often receive candies and other treats from people who may be unaware of their allergies. The absence of such an association at Christmas may be because Christmas is a more intimate celebration among family members and close friends, who are more vigilant regarding allergen exposure.”

“Our findings suggest that educational tools to increase vigilance regarding the presence of potential allergens are required among children with food allergies, their families and lay people interacting with children who have food allergies. Newer strategies targeting intervals associated with high anaphylaxis risk are required,” Dr. Ben-Shoshan, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at MCH-MUHC concludes.

The study appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.