Glow sticks are most common poison control call on Halloween, KU doctor says. Here are safety tips.

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal

As parents prepare for a second Halloween holiday during the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have tips for keeping children safe.

The poison control hotline at The University of Kansas Health System got 51 calls during last year's holiday, and most were because of glow sticks.

"It is glowstick season with Halloween," said Stephen Thornton, medical director of the KU hospital's Poison Control Center and an emergency department physician. "These are fortunately fairly non-toxic, but when they break they have a chemical in them that can cause quite a bit of irritation to the skin and to the eye."

"We occasionally get people trying to eat them, things of that nature, drink them," Thornton said. "Fortunately, ingested-wise, they are pretty low toxicity. They don't cause a lot of problems, maybe a little bit of an upset stomach. But where we see the problems is people get it into their eye or they get it on their skin and that can cause quite a bit of irritation.

"The treatment is pretty simple, it's rinse it off, rinse out the eyes, soap and water in the skin and just expect for a little bit irritation, but it's usually the limit of it."

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Sweet drinks and dry ice burns also cause issues

File photo: Third-grade students at State Street Elementary School dressed in Halloween costumes parade outside the school for parents and community members.

Some children may think the colorful liquid is a waxy candy or sweet drink.

"We have a saying in the in the Poison Control Center: 'Never bet against kids,'" Thornton said during a Monday media briefing. "No matter what you think, they will find a way to eat something."

Dry ice burns from fog machines are another common Halloween issue, Thornton said. Alcohol is a concern, especially holiday binge drinking among adults and when children find sweet drinks that are left out. Medication calls increase because of children thinking they are candies.

The emergency department sees costume-related injuries, especially from makeups that irritate the skin or get into the eyes. Alcohol-related injuries are also common.

The toxicology world has another saying, "Everything's a poison," so it is possible to eat too much candy, Thornton said.

"I'm sure there's more than few upset stomachs after Halloween with kids bingeing on on the candy," he said.

Health system officials encouraged parents to call the free poison control hotline, 800-222-1222, even if they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. The calls will remain non-judgmental.

"We're just here to help you out to help the kid," Thornton said.

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COVID pandemic and Halloween 2021

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, trick-or-treating should be low-risk for children and adults, said Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist. Indoor parties are the bigger risk.

"Any exposure from trick-or-treating itself is going to be pretty low, because a majority of that does take place outdoors and right at the threshold of the house there," he said. "So there's not really a lot of risk there."

Answering the door to hand out candy for a few seconds is low-risk, even if you are unvaccinated or immunocompromised. Wearing a face mask will offer protection.

Case numbers are decreasing across much of the state after the delta-fueled surge. Still, would-be party-goers should assume that at least one person out of a large group has an active infection, Hawkinson said.

"But having those larger parties can be high-risk ... especially indoors," he said. "You really can't control or understand exactly who is vaccinated ... or who could actively have it."

Thornton said the Poison Control Center continues to get calls related to Ivermectin and COVID-19.

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"The Ivermectin, we're getting kind of a steady stream (of calls)," he said. "I think it's important when people understand that Ivermectin is not a drug that poison centers ever really got significant calls on, so any elevation in the numbers is going to look significant. So yeah, we're seeing a lot more.

"Are we seeing people getting really sick from it? No. Interestingly, most of the calls we get are folks who already have COVID and are on the Ivermectin. The Ivermectin is not helping them out — they're still getting the COVID and most of the problems are coming from the COVID not from the Ivermectin."