Photo of child dressed up for halloween

By Dolores Libera

Just when you think you have gotten through the start of a new school season, weather changes, the September Asthma Peak and flu shots, Halloween is right in front of you. For families like mine who have children with asthma or food allergies, Halloween festivities often present conflicting and overwhelming challenges.

Potential flares lurk everywhere: dusty costumes, face painting, running from house to house setting off exercise-induce asthma, scary faces provoking wheezing, candy allergens. It’s challenging enough just asking neighbors to offer allergy-safe foods or repeating reminders to kids not to eat anything until candy is checked out.

With a daughter whose colds turned into dangerous asthma and pneumonia flares, suggested costumes for a cold October evening that included a hat, scarf and jacket couldn’t compete with a little girl’s dream of being a princess. Despite sound preparations, her symptoms began cascading shortly after Halloween and by Thanksgiving we were into a prolonged hospital stay.

While family, friends and colleagues were eager to help, I felt the need to create alternatives that combined the best of these holidays with new and fun traditions for two children who were under 10 years of age.

My goals were simple. Make October 31 a special time for family. A day devoted to each other. Give children the undivided attention of their parents and vice versa, creating bonds, trust and memories. A chronic illness created the perfect opportunity to bring our family closer and develop a foundation of caring and sharing for each other. Often lost are the positive effects of asthma and allergies, especially at holiday time.

I wanted activities that my husband and I enjoyed, hoping our children would as well. I wanted to use many customary Halloween activities and make them work in a different direction. The following are some of the ways we celebrated many Halloweens and Thanksgivings:

  1. Cook allergen-free treats to share with a local nursing home whose residents would love to see little goblins and princesses. Teaching moments abound during cooking from fractions to reading labels. Best of all, it is an easy time to talk.
  2. Classic movies: A Star Wars trilogy; A Harry Potter marathon; A Great Day In Harlem, giving faces and music to jazz greats.
  3. Museums, concerts, miniature golf – or let your children decide.
  4. My children still talk about the root beer challenge. We loved root beer and knew good from bad from mediocre. I would buy a half-dozen brands and the family tried to rate and guess where each bottle was bought. Rarely correct in our assessments, but lots of competitive fun.
  5. If spooky and scary need to be part of the day, look into Halloween movies or apps, all of which will serve that purpose. Rate the scream factor.

What worked for my family may not suit yours. Siblings may not be easily convinced. Media coverage can outweigh good intentions. Families with asthma and food allergies must always be attentive to consequences of behavior. If you do go trick-or-treating, always carry a bronchodilator inhaler or two epinephrine auto-injectors in case of an emergency.

Whether it is Halloween or any holiday, try to work in a framework that creates meaningful memories and avoids risky results – all the while keeping the special day in mind.

Healthy living is more than taking medicine and avoiding allergens. Exercise, sleep, good food and developing strong connections with family are important parts of a good action plan.

Worth the effort? A resounding yes from my husband and me and both my children now in their 30s. They and our first grandchild are visiting on Halloween. Family competition continues. Their request is to include a root beer challenge.

Dolores Libera is a publications consultant with Allergy & Asthma Network.