TEENAGER Rachel Murphy is dressing up as the famous Oscar statuette this Halloween – but she won't be wearing a mask, the costume must be brand-new and she'll be avoiding the traditional bonfires.
The effects on her of dust and smoke and the breathing restrictions caused by wearing a mask make many Halloween traditions a no-no for the 14-year-old from Santry, Dublin. Murphy was diagnosed with anaphylactic allergies at 14 months and with allergic rhinitis at the age of five.
Her bedroom must be kept free of dust at all times – in fact, an air purifier has had to be installed.
"I can't go to Halloween bonfires because of the smoke, I don't ever wear masks and any costume I wear has to be new," explains Rachel, who had her first asthma attack shortly after starting primary school.
But that's not all.
Rachel will be going out this Halloween with her friends and her younger siblings Emma (12) and Ciaran (8) – but because of her food allergies and the avalanche of nuts and sweets available on the night, mum Janet will have to be around to keep an eye on things.
"I wouldn't be able to let Rachel go out on Halloween with her friends on her own because of her food allergy," she explains.
"Also Rachel can't wear masks because she finds it difficult to breathe with one on and her costume has to be new every year because if you store anything from the year before it might be dusty and bring on an asthma attack."
Rachel must also stay away when the family are putting up their Halloween decorations, because any dust could trigger an attack.
But it's not just Halloween – come December, the Christmas decorations must also be avoided at all costs.
Rachel can't help with putting up the artificial tree because of the potential for dust in the air. The family can't have a real Christmas tree either – the strong piney smell tends to kick-start Rachel's allergic rhinitis.
Rachel isn't alone – asthma affects one-in-five children in Ireland, so there are many children and teenagers who will have to take special precautions if they want to go out on Halloween, says Irish Asthma Society's asthma nurse specialist Frances Guiney.
Many parents are aware of the potential risks and will contact the society's helpline for advice about how to manage the night.
"It can be a volatile time, especially for children whose asthma is a bit unstable.
"Masks can interfere with breathing – so either opt out or go for a half mask," Guiney advises.
"If costumes have been stored they may contain some dust or mould and may have to be rinsed out before use."
If you're buying a costume ensure it's hypoallergenic and latex-free.
"Some dyes have odours that can trigger an allergic reaction," she warns.
Avoid bonfires – the smoke can lead to chest tightness and wheezing. Add to that, the tons of excitement, the generous amounts of highly coloured sweets available (there is some evidence that additives can aggravate asthma, says Guiney) and the wrong sort of weather, and you have the potential for a significant flare-up.
Very cold, damp or foggy weather can also aggravate asthma symptoms, she says, especially if it's combined with all the other elements.
Parents should never let a child out if they have any symptoms and their inhaler should be with them at all times. "Be aware of the triggers than can affect your child and act accordingly," advises Guiney.
All asthma patients should have an up-to-date personal asthma management plan, she says.
"If you or your children do not have one, ask your GP or asthma nurse to devise a Personal Asthma Management Plan with you. This will help you control your asthma, show you how to tell if your symptoms are getting worse and what to do in an asthma attack.
"Unfortunately, Halloween is a time when children with asthma and allergies and their parents need to be more vigilant of the triggers that come with the holiday's festivities. Preparation is key in order to avoid an unwanted attack," she warns.
However, although at least one person a week dies from an asthma attack in Ireland, the Asthma Society of Ireland has been informed that its government funding (from the Charitable Lotteries Scheme), which helps support the Asthma Adviceline and Clinics, will be cut by 50pc each year for the next three years – and support will be removed completely by 2016.
This represents a cut of €360,000 per year in the funds available to the Asthma Society of Ireland.
* Parents worried about triggers over Halloween can call the Asthma Adviceline on: 1850 44 54 64; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* You can also download the society's FREE iPhone App 'Asthma Coach'
* For more information, visit www.asthma.ie