Halloween, Autumn Hazards: Child Asthma, Leaf Piles

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Let’s enjoy a safe Fall season. Protect your asthmatic child while they have some Halloween fun, and keep everyone safe from hidden dangers while raking autumn leaves.

Halloween and Asthma

Kids playing with pumpkins near hay bales.
Keep your kids safe from allergies this Halloween. Image credit: HummingbirdAVL.

What’s normally a day of fun frights and sweet treats can turn into a real nightmare for an asthmatic child. In 2014, a 7-year-old asthma sufferer in New York City died suddenly after trick-or-treating and attending a party, as did an 8-year-old in Missouri in 2017.

“The accessories that are present during Halloween activities are all potential triggers for a sensitive individual with asthma,” says Dr. Albert Rizzo, MD, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association.

Take these steps to keep Halloween safe and enjoyable for the whole family.

Clean the costumes

Planning to dig out last year’s Halloween attire, perhaps for a younger child? It may harbor such asthma triggers as dust, mold and mites. Wash it thoroughly before letting them try it on. After the holiday is over, store it in a sealed plastic container, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Avoid latex

Don’t let them wear costumes or masks made of this material, which can also initiate an asthma attack or other allergic symptoms. If they attend a party, monitor closely for incidental contact with latex. Even breathing air that has been exposed to latex balloons can prove dangerous, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Beware of masks

While a traditional way for kids to portray their favorite superhero or villain, masks can inhibit breathing. Put together a costume that doesn’t require one. If necessary, select a half-mask that lets the oxygen flow.

Be careful with makeup

Strong scents in hair and body sprays, makeup and hair dye are all potential asthma triggers. Makeup may also contain preservatives that can cause allergic reactions. Apply it to a small patch skin a few days or longer before Halloween to see if it’s safe, according to Rizzo, who is also chief of Christiana Care Health System’s Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section. “High quality theater makeup can help avoid this trigger and making an effort to be aware of the specific ingredients in each product can be helpful,” he says.

Inspect the treats

A full trick-or-treat bag is swarming with different types and brands of sweet stuff. Read the ingredient labels on all of them before allowing the little ones to indulge. “This usually means avoiding any home-made treats if there is any uncertainty as to what they contain,” says Rizzo.

Better yet, visit your neighbors in advance and hand them specific treats to give your child when they show up at the door.

Not too scary

Visiting haunted houses or hearing blood-curdling screams can provoke strong emotions in a child, resulting in wheezing or other asthmatic symptoms. Keep the festivities light and make sure your child keeps an inhaler handy. “Fog machines often used to create an ‘eery’ effect during Halloween can precipitate an asthma attack,” says Rizzo.

Go light on the tricks

The same goes for some of the childish pranks and other unsanctioned activities common to the holiday. “The exertion of running or climbing during a TP’ing can flare asthma,” says Rizzo. “The thrill of fireworks, especially the sense of excitement or apprehension of doing something illegal can be an emotional trigger for a particular child.”

No hayrides

Think twice before letting your kid climb onto one. Hay provides a home for fungus, which might play a major role in asthma. If you do let them join in the fund, make sure they cover their nose and mouth with a scarf.

Maintain awareness

During the holiday and throughout the year, it’s important for parents and kids alike to “stay attuned” to anything that might provoke an asthma attack, according to Rizzo. “The more the child knows what their particular triggers are, the more likely they will avoid a flare in their asthma on Halloween night,” he says.

What’s Lurking in Your Leaf Pile?

What is she jumping into, really? Image credit: lecates. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It’s that time of year again. Grab your rake, gather the autumn leaves into a big, colorful pile — and watch the kids to jump right in after them. But what else might be waiting for them, hidden beneath the colors of autumn?

Turns out it could be just about anything. In 2014, a citizen discovered part of an illegal meth lab concealed in a leaf pile in Ogdensburg, New York, leading to a drug-related arrest.

Leaf mold

As a type of fungus, mold doesn’t just show up in old walls or aged cheese. It also grows on fallen leaves, grasses and compost piles.

“Children who have asthma and also have a mold allergy are at risk of having an asthma exacerbation from the mold exposure,” says Sarah A. Denny, MD, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “Children who are allergic to mold should avoid raking leaves or playing in leaf piles, especially wet leaves.”

Mold, which travels through the air, can also occasionally infect the lungs, according to Normal Edelman, MD, senior consultant for scientific affairs at the American Lung Association. “However this is most likely when the lungs are abnormal as from bronchitis or bronchiectasis or when the immune system is impaired,” he says.

If you have a mold sensitivity and aren’t able to stay away from leaves — which is the best option — Edelman recommends wearing a NIOSH N95 style particle respirator mask. Popular in the construction industry, you can usually find them at home improvement stores.

Critters

All manner of wildlife, such as spiders, beetles, caterpillars and wood frogs, will sometimes shelter among leaves. Many are beneficial to gardens and can help with decomposition if you’re starting a compost pile.

But you probably don’t want to surprise them, especially if they bite. In 2015 in Lee County, Georgia, a copperhead snake bit a 16 year old girl who had stepped into a pile of leaves.

Ticks are more worrisome. These prolific little bugs can carry Lyme Disease, as well as a host of other diseases. Lurking among damp, shady leaves and brush, they lie in wait for a human or animal to bite.

To discourage ticks and other unwanted creatures, don’t let your leaf pile sit around like a lawn ornament. Bag and dispose of it as soon as possible. “I think the risk in freshly raked leaves would be minimal, but parents should take caution if leaf piles have been sitting for a while,” says Denny.

Foreign Objects

If your child can’t spot a living snake just before stepping or jumping into a pile, then they probably won’t notice other potentially dangerous items.

“Children can be injured by sharp objects in leaf piles,” says Denny. “These can vary from abrasions, bruises, lacerations, to corneal abrasions and other injuries. Parents should make sure that all sticks, rocks, rakes, etc have been removed before the children play in the leaf pile.”

Check with the city or county before piling leaves on the curb for the street sweeper to collect. Hard or sharp objects can shatter the suction equipment, sometimes shooting dangerous projectiles through the air. Plus, some sweepers can’t even suck up the leaves without jamming the intake. So, your municipality may forbid it or have special requirements for you to follow.

People

Don’t let your children play in piles of leaves that have been swept into the street. Drivers don’t always see them. “There are multiple reports of fatalities from children being run over by vehicles while the kids were in leaf piles,” says Denny. “Parents should also make sure that the leaf piles are in a safe place, away from the road, driveways and bodies of water.”

You might also take a look at our tips for chimney, bonfire and heater safety.


David Arv Bragi, profile picture

David Arv Bragi is a multidisciplinary journalist with experience in health, safety, personal finance, technology, arts and cultural topics. He is also a former team leader and volunteer in community/tower emergency response teams. He currently lives just outside of Bellingham, Washington.