All Hallows Evening a.k.a Halloween is this evening. It’s become synonymous with kids dressing up and venturing out to trick or treat in their neighbourhood. It’s a strange night especially when children knock on the doors of people they don’t know. We teach them not to accept treats or sweets from strangers – yet on this night, hidden in weird costumes it’s bizarrely encouraged!
For parents of children with severe food allergies and contact allergies it can be especially stressful. In the last decade, the cases of food allergies have doubled and the number of hospitalisations caused by severe allergic reactions has increased 7-fold (EAACI, 2015). There has been a 615% increase in hospital admissions for anaphylaxis between1992-2012 (Turner et al, JACI, 2015). In 2011the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence stated that between 6-8% of children in the UK had proven food allergies.
Food allergies and anaphylaxis are impacting more and more of us. Which means that halloween is becoming scarier for more of us too! When my son was little we used to enjoy a lot of community fun around halloween in spite of his severe food allergies and anaphylaxis. Pumpkin picking with friends at a nearby farm, carving our spooky designs into our picked pumpkins together with our neighbours, and of course eating the scooped out pumpkin seeds roasted and the scooped out flesh in soups and muffins all free-from allergens. We even dressed up and enjoyed knocking on the doors of our heath trick or treating with our neighbours (a lot of preparation from me went into the trick or treating part during the week before halloween)
Then one year it all went horribly wrong. My son went into anaphylactic shock. I had done my little pre-halloween visits to the neighbours so knew the homes we’d be visiting for trick or treats were supplied with safe treats for Aaron – glow-sticks, plastic bats and spiders, party poppers and some safe haribo packets of sweets. After all the years we’d been doing it the neighbours had it sussed.
We finally finished our wander round the houses and had returned home. Aaron and the neighbours children were all excitedly comparing their loot in their pumpkin buckets, playing in the dark and scoffing the sweeties they’d procured.
Aaron was seven and knew he had to let me check over the ingredients of his sweets before he could eat anything. He came over with his pumpkin bucket to ask what he could have. I spotted a kinnerton free-from chocolate lolly in the bucket I’d ordered online from the supermarket as a safe sweet free-from treat for Aars. So I said he could eat that.
He got stuck in, saying it was the best chocolate he’d ever tasted and I continued my conversation with my neighbour Luke. Aaron had run off to be with his friends, but in less than a minute he was back tugging on my sleeve, and trying to talk to me. I assumed he wanted more sweets and told him it was rude to interrupt adults when they were talking.
He put his hands to his throat and I could just about make out his husky whisper;
“I can’t breath!”
He was going into anaphylactic shock. My neighbour carried him into the house, whilst I called 999 and got his meds out. Aaron couldn’t talk, there was no point trying to get him to swallow any antihistamine syrup. Because he was struggling to breath I sat him in the kitchen, rather than lie him down.
I then “administered” EpiPen to him through his black halloween costume. It was awful – I had to stab my seven year old boy in the leg, after holding it in for a long ten seconds I removed it – back then there was no retraction of the needle – instead the huge needle lay beside us on the kitchen table as I massaged the area for a further 10 seconds.
The joy of AAI’s is that they do work, and quickly soon he was breathing again and able to talk.
“You stabbed me!” he sobbed. He was horrified by the size of the needle I had “stabbed” him with that was sitting exposed on our kitchen table. (Since that day we have always had JEXT AAIs which you just press into the child’s leg and the needle is retracted when you remove it. EpiPens now have that feature too.)
Every time there was a knock on our front door I dashed to it like a crazy lady terrifying teenage trick or treaters, shouting,
“I thought you were the ambulance! My son’s gone into anaphylactic shock!”
All Aaron says he can recall was his devastation at not being able to eat the red shoe-strings I had bought for trick or treaters – I had told them were vampire veins. I was scared of cross contamination and all his trick or treat booty was given to the neighbours or chucked in the bin.
It turned out the supermarket had sent the kinnerton nut-free chocolate lollies, not the dairy-free chocolate lollies. They look almost identical and as I had provided them I didn’t double check the ingredients in the dark that horrible halloween. The supermarket sent us a £50 voucher, by way of apology for our next online shop!
Unsurprisingly it ruined halloween for us and so for many years we’ve enjoyed the run up to halloween. The pumpkin-tastic tasty parts – picking, carving and eating pumpkins with the neighbours. But on the night of halloween, when the witching hour is upon us and the neighbours are trick or treating we are somewhere free-from trick or treating! Somewhere special, somewhere fun, somewhere relatively safe! This year we will be at the cinema watching Inferno, last year Halloween was during half-term and we were at a theme park watching fireworks and riding the roller-coasters in the dark.
If you are interested in how we survived Halloween for years with severe food allergies and no incidents I am giving away my Halloween Survival Guide ebook for free if you sign up for our weekly newsletter today. If you are interested in our alternative Halloween jolly’s over the last five years since that fateful night they’re also listed in our Halloween Survival Guide which you can receive for free if you sign up for our weekly newsletter today!
In the meantime I thought you may enjoy some yummy scrummy pumpkin recipes free-from eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, nuts but packed full of flavour and YUM!
Have a happy and safe All Hallows Eve!