Holidays Can Be a Fright for Kids With Food Allergies

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Parents of kids with food allergies probably won’t be surprised to hear that Halloween is an especially risky time for their youngsters.

A new study found that serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) triggered by peanuts jumped 85% when kids were trick or treating. Serious reactions triggered by an unknown tree nut or peanut exposure rose by 70% on Halloween compared to the rest of the year.

And the risk is similar on Easter — when kids are hopping around collecting chocolate eggs and other candy. Compared to other times, anaphylaxis from unknown nut exposure spiked 70% at Easter and there was a 60% increase in peanut-triggered anaphylaxis.

Fortunately, other holidays — including Christmas, Chinese New Year, Diwali and Eid al-Adha — didn’t seem to lead to an increase in serious reactions in kids with food allergies.

“The most common cause of anaphylaxis is food. When I was working in the emergency department, I was told [anaphylaxis] was higher on Halloween,” said study co-author Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, an associate professor of allergy and immunology at Montreal Children’s Hospital and McGill University in Canada. “With this study, we wanted to establish whether there actually was an increased risk of anaphylaxis on holidays compared to the rest of the year.”

Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It’s treated with a shot of epinephrine (Epi-Pen, Auvi-Q).

Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Itching,

  • Hives,
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat,
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing,
  • Dizziness, possibly fainting,

  • Stomach pain,
  • Vomiting or diarrhea,
  • Uneasy feeling.

The researchers reviewed almost 1,400 cases of anaphylaxis in four Canadian provinces between 2011 and 2020. Nearly two-thirds of the kids (median age: 5.4 years) were boys.

Besides uncovering strikingly higher rates of these serious allergic reactions from unknown nuts, peanuts or tree nuts on Halloween and Easter, the study found that anaphylaxis triggered by the same nuts was more likely in kids who were 6 years or older than in younger children.


While Halloween and Easter may look different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben-Shoshan said parents need to stay extra vigilant on these holidays to make sure their kids with allergies stay safe.

But why just Halloween and Easter?

The researchers can’t know for sure from the study data, but these tend to be holidays where children are given candy. And, in the case of Halloween, it often comes from people who don’t know them (or about their allergies) at all.

“Vigilance is important. Have the epinephrine pen nearby and supervise your child. The risk was higher in kids 6 years and above — don’t think that an 8-year-old will always be responsible. Be aware that anaphylaxis can happen,” Ben-Shoshan said.

While the study was done in Canada, he said the findings probably also apply in other countries that celebrate Halloween and Easter, including the United States.

Dr. Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, head of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said they mirror what she sees in practice.

On Halloween and Easter, she said, “People give children candy that is purchased and they might not be as aware of the potential for cross-contamination. You’re less likely to give away candy on the other holidays they studied.”

Plus, on other holidays, food is often prepared by family members who are aware of the allergies, Buetti-Sgouros said.

She suggested asking anyone who brings food to holiday meals to share a list of the ingredients. She said allergens can hide in many foods, and manufacturers sometimes change the way they make a food. That means parents have to check labels every time they buy a food.

That makes Halloween a particular challenge, she said. The snack-size treats often lack allergy information.

“Be alert for any signs of food allergy,” Buetti-Sgouros said. “The symptoms could be very subtle, like an itchy lip or a tickle in the throat. Sudden vomiting should be considered a sign of food allergy. There should always be an epinephrine pen nearby.”

Both experts mentioned that on Halloween kids with food allergies can look for homes with teal-colored pumpkins on their doorstep. This signifies a household that will have safe treats for kids with food allergies.

The findings were published Sept. 21 in CMAJ.

WebMD News from HealthDay


SOURCES: Moshe Ben-Shoshan, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University, Quebec, Canada; Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, M.D., chairperson, pediatrics, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, N.Y.;CMAJ, Sept. 21, 2020

Copyright © 2013-2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Celebrity Entertaiment

Why Jenny Slate called her standup comedy special ‘Stage Fright’

Jenny Slate’s first Netflix comedy special is a family affair — literally.

In “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright,” the standup comedienne and actress (“Parks and Recreation,” “Zootopia,” “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”), intersperses old home videos and interviews with family members with her onstage standup act.

“There is a lot of comedy about what doesn’t work, and about what we hate, and what we think doesn’t fit in,” says Slate, 37. “A lot of my comedy is about ‘I love myself and I’m not sure if I fit in. I love my family, they’re funny and unique.’ And whether or not I fit in with them doesn’t matter. Because the love we have pulls everything together.

“I wanted to double down,” she says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘These are my personal stories.’ It’s another to show, ‘Look, this is where they come from.’ ”

“Stage Fright” cuts back and forth between showing Slate’s standup act, taped in April at the Gramercy Theater — where she covers topics such as her family and her divorce (from director Dean Fleisher-Camp) — to her visiting her childhood home in Milton, Massachuetts, where she interviews both of her grandmothers, her parents and her two sisters. Slate says she wanted to feature them to show her audience that her impressions of her family were truthful.

“A lot of the stuff within my family members’ actual character doesn’t need a joke made out of it — it’s already very funny,” she says. “Case in point: my grandmother’s voice. My impression of her is not an exaggeration. It’s exactly what she sounds like.”

One part that Slate didn’t anticipate, however, is that the average person is not comfortable in front of the camera.

“My family is really supportive, so they all pretty much said we should do it,” she says. “But once we had the cameras in our actual house it was probably very startling. I often forget that if you don’t work around that type of equipment, it just has this connotation of ‘Oh God, you’re suddenly going to be exposed to the world!’”

Filming in her childhood home also served as a goodbye to the place, since Slate’s parents downsized around Labor Day.

“I knew they were planning on selling the house and moving to a smaller place,” she says. “I also wanted to make this special a way to create a time capsule. So I went in there and filmed as much as I could.”

She says she calls the special “Stage Fright” for personal reasons.

“That’s an essential part of my process at this point,” she says. “Much like having anxiety, it’s sort of just part of how I exist. A lot of my standup, in one way or another, deals with being a fearful person who wants to be around the things that scare her … and that’s exactly what performing is.

“I’m proud of being able to step through that.”

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