Have a Happy (Healthy) Halloween

It was a dark and stormy night…

I always wanted to use that line. It gets you in the mood for Halloween. This is my kid’s second favorite holiday and perhaps yours as well. It doesn’t require a lot of preparation, it’s good fun and it’s kind of a low-maintenance holiday. You are perhaps asking yourself where I am going in a medical blog post about Halloween – sugar comas, scare-induced heart attacks?

We will start with night vision. Trick-or-Treating isn’t much fun until after dark. Humans unfortunately have one of the poorest eyes for night vision on the planet. Night vision involves using cells in the eye called rods. These are sensitive, lower resolution cells with even more sensitive light cells called cones. Since rods are not in the visual axis (the middle), they give a rather shadowy view. The rods are rendered useless after bright light until they regenerate their light active chemicals. About 80% of your night vision returns after 10 minutes; the remainder takes a good 30 minutes to recover. So try to spend 10 or 15 minutes in low-light areas before you hit the streets with your candy bag.

Interestingly enough, red light doesn’t affect the rods (that explains the red light in the control rooms in all the movies), so you can get or maintain your full night vision when in red light.

With Halloween being in late October, it’s a time of notoriously unpredictable weather. In some areas, like where I live in Phoenix, a mask and costume can set you up for heat exhaustion. In other areas, the light-weight material used in costumes can mean hypothermia. Masks also help people fall off curbs because they produce tunnel vision. Add a little ice in northern climates, and broken wrists are not uncommon injuries Halloween night.

And how can we forget the candy. Fortunately, poisoned or booby-trapped Halloween candy is largely an urban myth. I have never met anyone who could tell me they saw such evil deeds with their own eyes. There probably aren’t a lot of alligators in the sewer either.

Of course, the main danger of Halloween is your kids eating so much candy they throw up on the carpet. How bad is Halloween candy for you anyway? The calorie counts show 6 candy corns are about 30 calories, a roll of Smarties is 25 calories, and of course everyone’s favorite, a single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup has a whopping 80 calories (most of which are fat). It’s probably a good thing that Halloween occurs just once one a year.

To those who have Type 2 diabetes, the dangers of a candy binge are very real. A heavy sugar calorie load, which gets absorbed rapidly, will drive a diabetic’s blood sugar into the stratosphere. The blood thickens, and a hyperosmolar coma can follow. Candy should be avoided at all times by Type 2 diabetics, even on the holiday that celebrates with candy – sorry.

Despite all of this, Halloween is still my second favorite holiday. Keep in mind – Halloween candy is well wrapped and stays fresh for months, so there’s no hurry to eat it all in one night.

Trick or Treat,

Dr. B


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