Halloween is almost here! The holiday with the 4th highest number of ER visits & double the number of fatal pedestrian accidents. It’s not surprising given excited kids wearing bulky, sometimes flammable costumes with limited vision and mobility hopped up on sugar. What are the real risks and what can we do?
So what are the biggest risks? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most common reasons why kids visit the hospital on Halloween are eye injuries from sharp objects, burns from flammable costumes, and motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians.
The Poisoned Candy Myth: FALSE
The poison candy story has taken on truly mythical status for Halloween. According to Snopes.com, “It’s a sadness that a holiday so thoroughly enjoyed by kids is being sanitized out of existence in the name of safety. Sadder still is there appears to be little reason for it.” In fact, Snopes has assembled an astonishing list of nearly every poisoning story you may have heard of and then the “what actually happened”.
Even Smithsonian Magazine , “Where did the fear of poisoned Halloween candy come from?” states, “Although their have been reports of razor blades and other foreign objects implanted in Halloween candy…these dangers are usually very obvious.” Though they do semi-jokingly add “…anyone giving out an apple on Halloween is already suspect.”
Tampered Candy (Pins/Needles/Blades): TRUE (kinda)
Unlike Halloween poisonings, cases of tampered candy involving the insertion of pins, needles,
or razor blades have been documented. Professor Joel Best, a Sociologist from University of Delaware who focuses on this, reported about 80 cases of sharp object incidents since 1959, and almost all were hoaxes. Only 10 resulted in even minor injury, and in the worst case, a woman required a few stitches. Further, as Best and Horiuchi (authors of the Razor Blade) note, more than 75 percent of reported cases involved no injury, and detailed followups in 1972 and 1982 concluded that virtually all the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents.
That said, Evolve does recommend that damaged or opened packages of candy should indeed be thrown out and, in fact, most safety tip sheets warn of the risk of hidden needles, razor blades, and other hazards in children’s candy. The American Academy of Pediatricians warn, “Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.”
The only reassurance here is that tampered candy is exceedingly rare (lightening strike deaths: 40-50 per year; razor blade/tampered candy deaths since 1959: 0) and very rarely leads to serious injury.
The Real Threats: Cars, Eye Injuries, Burns and Fractures
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities. In addition, NHTSA reported that 48% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities on Halloween night in 2012 involved a drunk driver.
NSC (National Safety Council) research revealed the reasons for pedestrian deaths and injuries varied by age. Darting or running into the road accounted for about 70 percent of pedestrian deaths or injuries and the most at risk group is ages 12-18 year olds (most are unsupervised).
To avoid injury, Evolve recommends, “Review key pedestrian safety rules with your kids like always crossing at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks; looking left-right-left when crossing and keep eye contact with drivers you pass in front of to make sure they see you; and watching out for cars backing out of driveways. But this year, more than ever, don’t forget to stress not to TEXT while walking!”
For younger kids, Evolve advised parents to put reflective tape on costumes or have their child carry an item that glows or reflects car lights. She also urged parents to accompany kids younger than 12 on trick-or-treat rounds.
Cuts and Fractures
Finger and hand injuries are the most frequent kind of injuries, 33% of which are cuts and 20% are fractures. Pumpkin carving makes up over 50% of the hand laceration injuries and falls from long and ill fitting costumes make up most of the fractures.
What about Adults and Young Adults
A study of college students concluded that Halloween was one of the 3 heaviest drinking days of the year. “When people dress up in unusual costumes and step out of their normal lives, they may feel that it is then OK to experiment with drugs and alcohol.”
Decorative, or cosmetic, contact lenses are supposed to be approved by FDA but most are not! The majority of cosmetic lenses sold are non approved. These are often found online or at beauty supply stores, salons, convenience stores, tattoo parlors, and mall kiosks. These contacts can be associated with problems ranging from irritated red eyes to abrasions and even very serious infections.
Eggings Potentially Fatal?
A 2010 article in the New York Times reported that Halloween eggings are common and often violent. “Some [people who] confront egg-throwers, have been murdered. Some who have been hit with eggs have chased the culprits and killed them. Some who have thrown eggs have died trying to get away. The seemingly harmless prank of a tossed egg has been perceived as a kind of ultimate insult, the sudden splatter and mess touching off a rage in people.
Another study in London of 13 persons with eye injuries resulting from a thrown egg classified 8 of the injuries as major, with half of those resulting in severe or permanent problems.
Halloween Sex Crimes?
Many cities have adopted policies banning known sex offenders from Halloween events. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network even offers a Halloween safety tip sheet. However, an analysis of National Incident-Based Reporting System crime report data found no increased incident rate around Halloween and no change at all after these policies became popular.
Don’t Forget Your Dog!
Halloween is a big night for calls to the poison control center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Dogs dogs will eat chocolate–even though it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even seizures and death. Left alone with a pillowcase full of candy, they might get in trouble.
Raisins and the artificial sweetener xylitol can also sicken dogs. So it’s best to keep all sorts of human treats stashed away.
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