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Uncommon Halloween Safety Tips: What EMS Wants You to Know

Little TigerHalloween time is an exciting time for parents and kids. Halloween means parents and children decorating houses and lawns, picking out costumes and planning the inevitable trick or treating. Halloween time and specifically Halloween night is an exciting time for EMS and hospitals …but not in a good way. Exciting to us means BUSY and there are things that we bring into the ER every year that makes us and the ER staff members shake our heads …things that hopefully – with these safety tips – parents will now think twice about.

  1. Candy and food allergies: We all know we should check the candy our kids get and make sure it looks safe, but did you know you should also check for contents that could cause allergic reactions. Many candies have nuts and they get missed.
  2. Costumes and face paint irritants. Face paint is great and looks cool but the time to test it is not on Halloween night when it’s dark and you can’t see any reactions like a rash or breathing problems caused by full costume. Colored contact lenses should be added to this list. Kids like to wear them with costumes and if doing so should be made aware of what to watch for like irritations and damage to their eyes and taught how to put them on and take them out properly.
  3. Real Props. Cuts, pokes, scrapes and real trauma from kids and adults using REAL PROPS. Using a plastic knife or pitchfork is ok. Using real knives and pitchforks should not happen at all but especially around children. A no brainer…but it happens.
  4. Letting kids wander alone. Letting your child wonder alone is your choice, all I can add to this is please think about who is going to speak for your child in the ER if YOU are not around.
  5. Broken Bones. Kids should have costumes they can move in and enjoy themselves in. If your child cannot walk correctly or has trouble with then it should be changed so as to avoid trip, falls and possible broken bones.
  6. Carving Pumpkins. Many children end up in the ER every year with serious cuts from carving pumpkins with sharp objects that are not meant for carving or were left unattended. Make sure kids are supervised and tools put away.
  7. Using Real Candles in Decorations. Real candles add a certain effect to the decoration but also bring a danger of surrounding objects catching fire if decorations are bumped or knocked over or left unattended. There are many brands of colored lights that can be put in decorations that bring a great effect and pose no threat to any one or home.
  8. Hayrides. Every child loves a hayride and they are great but like any ride and everyone should be secure, not just children. Injuries are mostly from falls and can be serious. Security, proper seating and slow speed should be requirements.
  9. Home Decorations. Decorating your home for Halloween can involve dark or no lighting and lawn inflatables. A dark home with ropes all over the place securing decorations do not mix well with trick or treaters that will trip and fall and possible injure themselves. There is nothing wrong with decorations, just try to make sure you don’t create a hazard at the same time.

All of the things outlined above can be avoided with planning and supervision. However, all of the things above become more possible when drinking and alcohol are involved. AAA and State Farm consider Halloween night one of the biggest drinking nights of the year and the deadliest night of the year for pedestrians with the rate of pedestrians struck by cars doubling. So please be careful and have fun!


How to Protect Your Child’s Teeth From Valentine’s Day Candy

Like anything that we consider “unhealthy” — French fries, soda, or ice-cream — moderation is key. It’s the same when it comes to Valentine’s Day candy for your child.

Although baby teeth develop cavities at a far faster rate than adult teeth do, it’s ok for your child to enjoy a small amount of sugar every now and then. The key is to limit how much and how often the holiday messenger hearts or chocolate covered caramels are consumed.

Here are a few important tips to keep in mind when you’re helping your child choose or sort through Valentine’s treats for their class:

Encourage Non-Edible Valentines. These days, it seems like every time we turn around, there’s another class party, holiday, and junk food to go along with it. Encourage your child’s teacher to promote non-edible items like stickers, pencils, notepads, or other gifts instead of all 20 students buying candy for one another. Even if the entire class doesn’t join in, your student can make a difference in their own personal gift choices.

Avoid Stickier Candies. Sticky items like caramel or taffy tend to adhere to teeth for hours at a time, keeping sugar in contact with the teeth. If your child is in braces, there’s also a risk of the brackets getting pulled off when they bite into tacky-textured treats. A better option is to go with chocolate candies that melt away within a matter of minutes.

Eat Candy with Your Meal. Instead of having Valentine’s Day candy as a snack, or nibbling on a few pieces here and there throughout the day, encourage your child to eat it with their school lunch or right after dinner. What this does is limit the length of time that acid byproducts etch away at tooth enamel. More frequent snacking just means more acid on their teeth throughout the day. After a couple of days, throw out the leftovers.

Double Down on the Fluoride. Make sure your child is using a fluoridated toothpaste each day. Adding in a fluoride-based mouthwash can help to target hard-to-reach areas around times when you know your child’s smile is going to be exposed to extra sugar. Fluoride treatments at their regular checkups are one of the best ways to strengthen teeth against decay.

Regular dental visits make it easy for your family to receive preventive services that limit your child’s risk of developing cavities. Schedule your next visit with your dentist today!

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Help with Holiday Hurdles for Special Needs Kids

Holiday Traditions

Special needs parents and caregivers come up against the spectre of expectations on a daily basis, but the holidays can bring up even more challenges. You may have your ideal holiday all planned out in your mind, or be burdened with visions of holidays past, but your child with special needs may be unable or unwilling to go along with the images in your head. This is certainly true to for typical kids and teens, too!

Religious services

While you may get comfort from attending some form of worship, to a person with special needs a church, temple or other holy place may seem scary. There are strange smells, loud sounds and crowds. This can all be too over stimulating for certain people.

Some places of worship are starting to offer services geared to those with special needs, or may offer an alternative activity while the parents attend services. If these options are not available in your area, ask for them to be initiated – or help to start them yourself. Headphones, earplugs and even surgical masks may help with excessive sensory input. Weighted vests or special fidgets or stuffed animals may offer a sense of being grounded or calmness.

Social expectations

Let’s say you open a present from Great Aunt Ethel. It is a sweater, and you don’t really like it, but you know that you should still say thank you. Some people with special needs lack that politeness filter and may blurt out their honest feelings, such as “that is an ugly sweater.” Not only is Great Aunt Ethel offended but the parents of the child with special needs may also come under fire for not teaching the child “good manners.” Too bad no one taught Great Aunt Ethel good taste, then this awkward situation would have been avoided.

Maybe waiting to open gifts in private could help spare Great Aunt Ethel’s feelings, and of course a polite thank you note afterwards would be appreciated.

Holiday Gatherings and Visits – even to the North Pole

Visiting friends and family can be challenging due to strange environments, new people and changes in routine.

Bring familiar items and if necessary, favorite foods you know your child will eat. Social stories where you can rehearse acceptable responses are helpful, and de-sensitization practices may help make new places less problematic when you visit them beforehand while they are empty.

Your holiday tradition may include a visit to Santa. As a former Macy’s Herald Square Elf I can tell you that as nice a person as Santa is, to a small child this giant man in a vibrant red suit can seem terrifying! Screams, crying and squirming are common responses even from neurotypical children. If your child with special needs truly can’t handle an encounter with Mr. Kringle please don’t force them – you are trying to make a happy memory for kids, not torture them.

Check local malls or a We Rock The Spectrum location for Sensitive Santa, which is a crowd-free visit with subdued lighting and low or no music. Many special needs families have gotten their very first happy holiday photo thanks to these events. Waving to Santa from across the mall or a photo with Santa far in the background may also be a fun alternative to standing in a long line to meet him face to face.

It isn’t just visiting the jolly elf that may bring up tough situations – Great Aunt Ethel may bring her own set of problems. At her house the rules may be different, which is difficult and possibly even upsetting for individuals with special needs. Even if she comes to your house she may upset the usual environment; she may wear a strong perfume or change the usual mealtimes. While you may want that photo of your child and Great Aunt Ethel snuggling by the fire, your child may want nothing to do with her.

Give your child some space. A group photo may be more tolerable for your child. After some time your child may become comfortable with new people and new settings. Let them ease in at their own speed.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Editor’s Note: Autism Speaks is a co-sponsor of Sensory-Friendly Santa. Click here to find one in your area.

How to Ensure Your Holiday Dinner Guests Leave Smiling Not Sick

thanksgiving_dinnerEvery host wants guests to leave the table with a full stomach, not a stomach bug. Unfortunately, 76 million cases of food-borne diseases occur in the United States each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 325,000 of those cases result in a trip to the emergency room. This time of year, with heaps of food and extra guests, it’s all too easy to contaminate meals with food-borne bugs or a nasty flu virus.

Luckily, there are a few simple safe-cooking precautions that will keep your friends and family safe and healthy this holiday season. Barbara Kowalcyk, director of food safety at The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention in Grove City, Pa., shares her tips to help prevent both food poisoning and germ-sharing.

At the Store

Keep raw meats and poultry separate from packaged foods in your cart. The outside of meat packages can be contaminated with bacteria, and touching them means you can easily spread germs and bacteria to other products. “Don’t be afraid to use a plastic bag from the produce department as a glove when handling meats,” says Kowalcyk. “A little precaution now can save you from a big mess later.”

At Home

Proper preparation is the key to safe cooking. Before cooking any meals, clean your hands and all work surfaces. Designate different cutting boards for different types of foods to help prevent cross-contamination. It’s also important to pay attention to what you’re doing. “Don’t go from cutting a chicken to making a salad. Wash your hands,” says Kowalcyk.

Knowing which foods to wash also prevents illness. Always wash the tops of cans and all fruits and vegetables. “People are often surprised to learn that something like a salad can make them sick,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends skipping prepackaged bagged leaves and buying the whole head instead. Remove the outside leaves as well as any with tears, which are the most likely to be contaminated.

Don’t put meat and poultry in the sink. “It doesn’t need to be washed,” says Kowalcyk. Washing raises the risk of contaminating other surfaces in your kitchen. It only takes between three and 10 microbes to start an infection (more than a million can fit on the head of a pin). Just a few drops of dirty water can really wreck havoc on your kitchen. Washing the food won’t kill bacteria, but cooking your food to the proper temperature will.

If You’re Sick

If you’re fighting the flu or a cold, you should stay out of the kitchen altogether. Give instructions to another family member or consider wearing a mask as you prepare the food. If nothing else, wash your hands more often — especially after you cough or sneeze.

In the Oven

Testing meat for color, touch or until juices run clear is not a good way to tell if food is done. “Testing the internal temperature is the only way to know if it’s cooked to a safe temperature,” says Kowalcyk. She recommends you ditch the dial thermometers and pop-up buttons included with some prepackaged turkeys since both may not be calibrated properly. Instead, use a digital thermometer to test meat at its thickest point and poultry at the joint between the thigh and leg.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking foods to the following minimum temperatures to ensure safe consumption:

  • Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb (steak, chops, roasts): 145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Ground meats: 160 F (71.1 C)
  • Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked): 145 F (62.8 C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat): Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 F (60 C) and all others to 165 F (73.9 C)
  • All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, and wings, ground poultry, and stuffing): 165 F (73.9 C)
  • Eggs: 160 F (71.1 C)
  • Fish & Shellfish: 145 F (62.8 C)
  • Leftovers: 165 F (73.9 C)
  • Casseroles: 165 F (73.9 C)

click here to access a printable version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart

At the Table

Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. This includes the time it may be on the counter or table before you serve it. Keep hot foods hot in the oven and cold foods cold in the refrigerator. “Don’t let your foods get to room temperature,” says Kowalcyk. “That’s where bacteria likes to grow. And the longer it sits out, the more you increase your risk of getting sick.”

After the Meal

Transfer warm leftovers to shallow dishes so they’ll cool down evenly and quickly in the fridge. Also keep in mind that the temperature increases in an overstuffed fridge, so you may need to adjust yours for a few days after a big meal to make sure it stays at a safe 40 F.

The Next Day

Everyone loves leftovers, but not everyone should reach for the cold turkey. Those vulnerable to illness — young children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions — should reheat leftovers to 165 F before eating them. “Most people will be OK, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” says Kowalcyk.


Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Pediatric Safety in November of 2010. The chart has been updated to include the most current information available on the minimum safe internal temperatures for food. If you’re preparing dinner for guests, print a copy and keep it handy. Wishing all of our readers a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Holiday Decorations & Kids: Hidden Dangers You Need to Avoid

the baby around the Christmas tree playing with lightsThe holidays are fast approaching and the preparation has already begun for Thanksgiving and eventually Christmas. Family will be coming over to your home or you will be traveling to theirs for food and festivities. While this time of year is a joyful one please keep in mind the little things that pose a danger to the children. Things like electricity from lights and decorations, breakable objects that can be knocked over onto a child or create sharp edges. Choking hazards are greatly overlooked during the holidays. While we are all aware of toys having choking hazards and warning labels , holiday decorations can have parts that are easily swallowed if found by a child such as small light bulbs, parts from battery operated decorations, holiday village scenes, snacks in snack bowls, and a host of other things that need to be secured and checked.

When I teach CPR classes for new parents, soon to be parents and even grandparents, I encourage everyone to go home and lie on the floor and see the world from a child’s perspective and see what a different world it is. I do this to emphasize a point that there are hidden dangers under furniture and that the children will find anything you have lost like pills, money and other objects. I encourage this around the holidays as well because it will give you a perspective of your home that will allow you to see how easily the holiday decorations and electrical cords can be reached by small children. Give it a try, I promise you it’s an eye opening experience.

I hope you have a safe and happy holiday season!

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