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Mind the Cars, Not Just the Candy, for a Happy Halloween
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By Angela Pirisi, HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDayNews) -- Tampered candy may be many parents' worst Halloween nightmare, but it's not the most scary threat, experts say.

Traffic and tripping hazards cause more serious harm than tainted treats do.

"You really don't hear of many children dying from candy poisoning," said Dr. Carl Baum, a pediatrician and medical toxicologist at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital in New Haven, Conn.

"Besides, you can easily do something about suspicious candy -- throw out loose, unwrapped candy and fruit, check seals for integrity, and don't allow sampling before you inspect it at home," added Baum, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

Worried parents can also keep the local poison control center phone number on hand, he said.

Protecting kids from cars is trickier. Even if your school-age child is usually traffic savvy, don't assume he or she will be car-conscious while trick-or-treating.

"With all the fun and excitement, kids are not as safety-oriented as usual," said Dr. Marie Lozon, divisional director of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Health System.

"They're not looking where they're going, they're running, and darting out between parked cars. And for a 30-pound, 3-year-old, a car traveling at 25 to 30 miles per hour can cause serious harm," said Lozon.

Baum suggests minimizing traffic dangers by trick-or-treating before it's pitch-dark, avoiding crossing streets, sticking to sidewalks, carrying flashlights, and wearing reflective tape or chemical light sticks.

Also, costumes, including footwear, shouldn't be too long or awkward-fitting as to cause tripping or limit mobility, and masks should allow clear visibility, he added.

Costumes can get scary for a few other reasons -- outfits that drag on the ground can land trick-or-treaters in the emergency room. "I can't count the times kids trip on their costume, or fall for some other reason," said Lozon. Often, she'll see kids come in with a broken arm, split chin or missing teeth on Halloween.

And beware those popular novelty contact lenses -- they can cause serious eye problems, such as ulcers, corneal damage, eye infections (think conjunctivitis), allergic reactions, and in severe cases, blindness. They can also hamper vision. No one should wear decorative contact lenses without seeking out an eye care professional, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Face paint can pose another threat. Really scan the labels on face paints, advised Baum. Make sure they're FDA-approved. "And don't use them close to the eyes, even if they are FDA-approved," he said.

It's a good idea to do a patch test a couple of days before Halloween because some kids with sensitive skin could suffer skin reactions, such as contact dermatitis (itchy, red skin, swelling), Lozon said.

Fire safety is another concern, Baum said, because the edge of a costume could catch the flame of an ill-placed Jack-o-Lantern. People should be careful not to put Jack-o-Lanterns anywhere near trick-or-treaters.

"We also would urge people to be cautious that costumes are non-flammable," Baum said. "Some may say flame-resistant but that doesn't mean flame-proof." Avoid costumes that don't say flame-proof.

"For people giving out treats," Lozon said, "adopt a good neighbor policy." Clear your yard of hazards, such as leaves, branches sticking out at eye level, garden hoses and kids' toys, and adequately light the way for trick-or-treaters. And dog owners should consider keeping their pet safely sealed off from the front door and yard to avoid barking or bites, Lozon suggested.

For those still fretting about poisoned candy, choking due to age-inappropriate treats is actually a bigger risk. Toddlers can't really handle gum, hard candy, jawbreakers or any small, pellet-shaped candy that can easily get lodged in their small throats, said Lozon. Softer, bigger candy, lollipops and packaged cookies or chocolate bars (with attention to nuts for allergic kids) are a safer bet.

It's also less tempting for kids to dip into their sugary loot if they have supper or a snack before going out, Lozon said. Or parents accompanying kids can stop along the route, inspect a treat, and let them indulge a little, she said.

Is there any danger in consuming too much candy? Cavity-risks aside, nausea and vomiting can occur, and the caffeine in chocolate can make kids hyper or give them a stomach ache, said Lozon. So ration the treats, and you'll minimize the bellyaching, too.

More information

For more on Halloween safety, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov ).

SOURCES: Marie Lozon, M.D., divisional director, pediatric emergency medicine, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor; Carl Baum, M.D., pediatrician and medical toxicologist, Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, New Haven, Conn., and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention

Copyright � 2004 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

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