Halloween can be an exciting time for kids and families. But while most Halloween activities are safe and fun, a few can take a scary turn—and it’s important to know the dangers out there and be prepared. Here’s an overview of the first aid skills it’s useful to know around this time of year.
Think safety with costumes. Most of the Halloween-related accidents that occur involve cars colliding with kids on the street. This makes sense, as many common Halloween costumes have dark colors—scary witches, wolves, vampires, and other staple characters often wear black—and there are a lot more kids out on the streets on Halloween than on other nights. Drivers need to be especially aware.
As a parent, however, you can minimize the risk by making sure your child wears a light-colored or reflective item of clothing—no all-black ensembles, and no masks that block their side vision. If your kids are under 12, be sure there’s an adult or responsible teenager with them when they go out trick-or-treating. Talk to your kids about where they can and can’t go, set out a route for them, and set firm expectations about when they can be home. Be sure they know not to knock on doors if they don’t know the people inside.
Know how to treat minor sprains or strains. Be sure the costumes your kids wear aren’t too flowy or drapey—and especially that they don’t get in the way of free movement. Dresses, skirts, capes, and sheets should be short enough to let your child run and walk without tripping them up.
If your child does slip, trip, or have a mishap that causes a strain or sprain, remember the acronym RICE. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Here’s what you need to know in more detail:
- Rest. Get your child off their feet. For sprains and strains, it’s best to stay off the injured limb for at least 24 hours.
- Ice. Ice packs should be applied for about 10 to 20 minutes every four hours or so. Be sure to keep a cloth barrier between the ice and the skin to prevent frostbite.
- Compression. Wrap the injured limb for 48 hours—firmly, but not so tightly that the child experiences tingling or a loss of sensation. The idea is to provide comfortable support, not cut off blood flow.
- Elevation. Elevate the injured limb above the heart to reduce swelling, by propping it up on a pillow or other support.
Be aware of fire safety. Costumes should also be fire-retardant, as there are lots of open flames around Halloween—including candles and jack-o-lanterns. Sometimes, kids aren’t aware enough of flowy or drapey costumes, making them less than safe near open flames.
If your child does get burned—either because of their costume or because they strayed a little too close to a candle—you can treat it using first aid, if it’s a first-degree burn. First-degree burns occur only in the first layer of skin, and involve redness and swelling but not blisters.
If your child has a first-degree burn, run it under cold water to cool the skin down. Put a sterile gauze bandage over the wound—avoid cotton, terrycloth towels, or other materials that could shed small pieces of fabric in the wound. Give the child an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or aspirin to reduce the swelling.
If the burn is second-degree or more serious—if there are blisters or more extensive damage—cover the wound loosely with a sterile cloth, elevate the wound, and call 911 immediately.
Keep kids away from sharp things. Obviously, any toy weapons should be made of foam, cardboard, or another harmless material. But kids should also be closely supervised in activities such as carving pumpkins and making jack-o-lanterns. If a minor cut does happen, wash it with soap and water immediately, and change dressings or Band-Aids twice a day. At night, wrap the wound a bit more loosely so air can circulate, and keep the wound dry.
For a more serious wound, press sterile cloth or gauze over it to stop the bleeding. Elevate the wound above the heart to slow the bleeding down. If the wound seems deep or won’t stop bleeding, call 911.
Be aware of choking hazards. Candy can present a danger of choking—especially hard candies and gumballs. If your child seems to be choking, ask if they can breathe—if they can answer, or if they’re coughing, they don’t need the Heimlich maneuver. If they can’t reply, however, they are most likely in danger of choking.
You can perform the Heimlich maneuver by following these steps:
- Stand behind the child and put your arms around their waist.
- Make a fist and Place it against the child’s navel below the breastbone, with the thumb side facing them.
- Cover the fist with your other hand, and thrust sharply upward and inward.
- Keep going until the object dislodges or until the child loses consciousness.
Be aware of poison risks. There have been no confirmed cases of poisoned Halloween candy in the United States that haven’t been debunked—at least to our knowledge. However, kids could easily swallow pills that they think are candy. This can happen year-round, but Halloween poses a specific risk if you leave pills out and your children mistake them for sweets. Here are some poisoning symptoms to watch for:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- Burning or pain around the mouth or throat
- Fever or chills
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Lessened appetite
- Blue skin or lips
- Seizures or unconsciousness
If you think your child has been poisoned, find out immediately what they have ben eating. Call the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222) or 911 immediately, and save the bottle if the child swallowed pills. Every poisoning case is different, and emergency workers will need to know what your child swallowed.
Make a Halloween first aid kit. It’s important to have all the necessary first aid tools on hand when you’re out trick-or-treating. Here are a few things yours should include.
- Band-Aids, sterile gauze, and bandages.
- Hand sanitizer.
- Safety pins, to pin up trailing costumes.
- Bottled water, to wash out minor cuts.
- Emergency phone numbers.
- Antibiotic ointment and antiseptic wipes.
- Ibuprofen, aspirin, or other pain relievers.
- A breathing barrier, in case someone needs CPR.
- A pair of tweezers, for picking out splinters.
- An oral thermometer.
- A portable cold compress, for bumps, sprains, and bruises.
Know how to treat minor cuts and burns, deal with a sprain, handle a poisoning incident, and more serious cuts, and have a talk with them about trick-or-treat safety. With a little preparation, you should be able to keep the holiday more fun than scary.