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Ultimate Guide to Halloween Safety

Like most indulgences, Halloween does come with some risks. See more Halloween pictures.
Digital Vision/Getty Images

You have to figure any night involving costumes and buckets of candy is going to be a hit with the young crowd. And it is: In the United States, more than 90 percent of children aged 5 to 14 go trick-or-treating on Halloween, and more than $2 billion in sweets changes hands in a single evening [source: Sullivan].

Every October 31, kids head out in droves, the promises of sugar and dressing up filling neighborhood streets and malls with little ghosts, Harry Potters and Hannah Montanas going door-to-door in search of tooth-rot. Sweet, wonderful tooth-rot.

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But as with most other indulgences, Halloween does come with some risks, aside from the dental ones. After all, it's a night when ill-fitting, low-visibility masks are standard, children are crossing neighborhood streets after dark and strangers with candy is the norm. That's no reason to abandon the fun, though. A little knowledge and some forethought can make for a safe Halloween, still filled with the traditional holiday stuff that tens of millions of kids, and often their older siblings and parents, look forward to every October [source: Kurutz].

For most people, a "traditional" Halloween means three things: costumes, trick-or-treating and months' worth of candy handed out for free. All good things, as long as no one trips on a too-long wizard robe and cracks a tooth on the curb, or eats a snack-size Snickers bar despite a peanut allergy. In this article, we'll find out how you can minimize the risks that pop up on Halloween evening. We'll look at some ways you can help ensure a safe, stress-free holiday without giving up the good stuff.

Most people would agree dressing up is pretty central to the evening. Candy-givers have been known to refuse treats to brazenly nondisguised solicitors. But before you go with that all-black ninja costume or the Thriller-esque, cat-eye contact lenses, let's check out some Halloween-costume safety guidelines.

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To be safe, Halloween costumes should fit properly and be made from flame-retardant materials.
To be safe, Halloween costumes should fit properly and be made from flame-retardant materials.
Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

On Halloween night, four times more children are hit by cars than on any other night of the year [source: CDC].

Of course, there are other, less dire costume-related problems to address. If you've ever tripped, slipped or tipped over wearing a brand new pair of shoes, you've encountered one of those problems. Imagine millions of somewhat-less-steady kids running around in whole outfits they've never worn before -- outfits that may not even fit right. And they're doing it in the dark.

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Getting into costume can mean wearing unfamiliar clothing, shoes, makeup and possibly even a different eye color. Some people have allergic reactions to face paint; others wear dark colors that make them blend in with the dark scenery; and cheap, over-the-counter contact lenses aren't the best things to put in your eyes. But you don't have to give up playing dress-up. For a safer Halloween costume, try following some simple rules.

Safe costumes are:

  • Highly visible: Choose light colors and add reflective strips to arms, legs, back and shoes for added visibility at night. If you do go with a dark costume, always add those strips so cars can see you.
  • Properly sized: Make sure costumes are the right length and overall size so they don't impede walking. Masks should not cover eyes, ears, nostrils or mouth, so trick-or-treaters can see and hear cars and breathe easily.
  • Flame-retardant: On a night when jack-o-lanterns abound, fire is a concern. Make sure costumes are made of flame-retardant material so if they do catch on fire, they won't burn quickly. Especially stay away from 100 percent cotton.

Some other things to consider:

  • Makeup and face paint: Look for hypoallergenic products. Always apply a small amount to a small spot of skin to test for a bad reaction before applying all over.
  • Contact lenses: It's best to avoid costume lenses unless running it by your doctor. Eye infections and other problems can result from putting something in your eye without guidance.
  • Props and accessories: If swords or wands are part of the outfit, make sure they are dull, plastic and flexible. Even adults should avoid carrying sharp or blunt objects that could cause injury if they trip and fall.

Once you have the costumes under control, it's time to address the candy part of the night. Stomachaches are just the beginning.

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This pumpkin full of candy looks festive, but hopefully it didn't come from strangers. You should never eat candy that's been removed from its original packaging.
This pumpkin full of candy looks festive, but hopefully it didn't come from strangers. You should never eat candy that's been removed from its original packaging.
Photo courtesy of Peoria, Ariz.

While many trick-or-treaters go door-to-door until their goody bags are full, Halloween really shouldn't be a free-for-all in terms of taking candy. Or in terms of eating it. When you go out trick-or-treating with your kids, or send them off into the night with their friends, make sure they stick to houses they know (no complete strangers!) and avoid eating the candy while they walk around. First, an adult needs to inspect the loot and discard anything that is:

  • Unwrapped: There have actually been documented cases of tampering, like needles found in chocolate bars [source: Snopes]. Throw out any fruit and any candy that's not in its original packaging.
  • Homemade: Unless you personally know the baker, get rid of any homemade treats. You never know what could be in them.
  • A choking hazard: Small children should not get to keep small pieces of candy, like candy-covered nuts or chewing gum, that could get caught in their throats.

Some other things to consider:

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  • Allergies: If your kids have allergies, make sure to check candy for any problematic ingredients. Nuts are especially prevalent in Halloween candy.
  • Stomachaches: Don't eat it all at once! Tummy aches can ruin the fun and are a very common aftereffect of Halloween.

Safe candy and costumes will get you a long way toward a smooth Halloween evening, but they won't get you all the way there. Up next, a few more tips to help you avoid the big Halloween pitfalls.

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Following some basic safety tips will keep Halloween fun and spooky -- not scary.
Following some basic safety tips will keep Halloween fun and spooky -- not scary.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Government Blog

Halloween safety is mostly common sense, but the excitement of the evening, and all those giddy little wizards and pop stars raring to go, can interfere with the clearest of minds. Following these additional tips can help reign in the craziness of the spookiest night of the year:

Be prepared: The old Boy Scout motto still applies. Make sure you and/or your trick-or-treaters don't leave without a flashlight to see and be seen in the dark, as well as identification and a cell phone in case someone gets separated from the group.

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Know the road: Stick to familiar neighborhoods (preferably your own), and stay on the sidewalk whenever possible. Review all street-crossing rules with little ones, including the following: Use only crosswalks, look before you cross and never dart out from in between parked cars.

Set a plan: If your older kids will be going out without you, set preplanned routes so you know where they'll be, and set curfews so they don't stay out too late -- and so you know when to go look for them if they're not home.

Limit exposure: In trick-or-treating as in life, there's strength in numbers, so always travel in groups. Kids should be reminded to never, ever enter a stranger's home even if that stranger has "lots more candy inside."

Set the stage: If you'll be giving out candy at your house, you can do your part to make the night safer for trick-or-treaters. Be sure to clear debris and obstacles from your yard and walkway; make your walkway well-lit; keep candlelit jack-o-lanterns away from high-traffic areas; and keep any pets well-contained.

With a little planning and care, you and your kids can fully enjoy those costumes and buckets of candy without any regrets. Have a safe, happy holiday!

For lots more information about Halloween and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Candy's not the only Halloween safety concern. University of Michigan Health System. Oct. 1, 2004.http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2004/hmhalloween.htm
  • Childhood Pedestrian Deaths During Halloween -- United States, 1975-1996. CDC Wonder. Oct. 24, 1997.
  • http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/m0049687/m0049687.asp
  • DeGroat, Bernie. "Child traffic fatalities increase on Halloween." The University Record Online. University of Michigan. Oct. 31, 2005.http://www.ur.umich.edu/0506/Oct31_05/24.shtml
  • Keith, Christie. "Halloween Pet Threats." SFGate. Oct. 20, 2009. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/10/20/petscol102009.DTL
  • Kurutz, Daveen Rae. "Safety concerns trump local trick-or-treat." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Oct. 25, 2007. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/multimedia/s_534337.html
  • Expert Offers Tips for Picking Safe Halloween Costumes. NewsWise. University of Michigan Health System. Oct. 2, 2006.http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/523752/?sc=rsmn
  • Halloween Health and Safety Tips. CDC.http://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/
  • Halloween Safety: Safety Alert. US Consumer Product Safety Commission.http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/hallow.html
  • Halloween Safety Starts at Home. Mayo Clinic.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/halloween-safety/CC00072
  • "Pins and Needles." Snopes. http://www.snopes.com/horrors/mayhem/needles.asp
  • Safety Tips for a Spooky Halloween. Times Daily. Oct. 16, 2009.http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20091016/ARTICLES/910165033/-1/LIVING01?Title=Safety-tips-for-a-spooky-Halloween
  • Sheriff offers Halloween safety tips. NJ.com. Oct. 19, 2009.http://www.nj.com/reporter/index.ssf/2009/10/sheriff_offers_halloween_safet.html

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