Summer camp can be a great experience for children. If your child has allergies, there are some important things to consider as you get him or her ready for this exciting activity. Depending on the camp your child attends, there may be forms for you and maybe your child's doctor to complete concerning medical history, current medications, and allergies.

Whether a child has asthma or allergies to foods, pollen, or insects, it is essential that camp personnel are made aware of the medical diagnosis and have a written action plan in place for treatment. Preparing for camp is an excellent opportunity for parents and children to review their food allergy and asthma action plans, and to make sure they are up to date. Camp is a change from a child's normal routine, so it is critical to identify the types of situations that may cause trouble, as well as what to do if a problem occurs.

Food allergies

If your child has food allergies and has an epinephrine autoinjector such as EpiPen or Auvi-Q, provide the camp with a food allergy action plan and confirm that staff are trained in the use of this medication. Children old enough to carry their epinephrine autoinjector should always carry two devices with them, and should know how and when to use the devices. For younger children, their epinephrine devices should be accessible without delay. Epinephrine autoinjectors should not be exposed to extreme heat or direct sunlight, or refrigerated. If accidental exposure and a reaction occur, and epinephrine is needed, 911 should be called.

Parents should speak with the camp's staff about meals and snacks that will be provided, to make sure children with food allergies are accommodated and can fully participate in activities. Finally, a medical alert bracelet should be considered for children with food allergies. There are many options including sizes, colors, and materials that will help to make the bracelet more appealing to children.

If your child has food allergies, consider asking the following questions before camp attendance:

  • What foods are included in the meals?
  • Are there peanut/tree nut or other restrictions in place?
  • Will the family need to supply meals and/or snacks for their child with food allergies?
  • Is there a nurse and/or other personnel trained in emergency response?
  • Where is the nearest medical transport and medical facility?

Bee or wasp allergies

A second type of allergy that can be an issue at summer camp is bee or wasp allergy. Serious reactions to stinging insects, including bees and wasps, are fortunately rare in children. Most often, stings cause swelling of the skin without more severe symptoms like trouble breathing, wheezing, vomiting or a drop in blood pressure, which would require treatment with epinephrine. If your child experiences these more severe symptoms after wasp or bee sting, he or she should be evaluated by an allergist. If your child has been diagnosed with an allergy to a stinging insect and has been prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector, the camp's staff needs to be made aware of the allergy and should have your child's action plan on hand.

Similar to children with food allergy, children with allergies to bees or wasps always need to have two doses of epinephrine readily available. When anaphylaxis to a stinging insect does occur, it can be particularly life-threatening. Epinephrine should be injected and 911 called immediately. A child with this allergy should wear a medical alert bracelet and avoid contact with bees and wasps.

The following are tips to help avoid bees and wasps when spending time outdoors:

  • Do not drink directly out of open cans or bottles, as wasps can hide inside these containers.
  • Keep food covered.
  • Do not walk barefoot.
  • If stinging insects are in the area, back away and avoid sudden movements such as flailing the arms. Sudden movement can lead to accidental contact with the insects and may increase their attack behavior.
  • Wear light-colored clothing as bees and wasps are attracted to darker colors.

Pollen allergies

Allergy to pollen is a third diagnosis that can be a concern at summer camp. Since children may be spending more time outdoors, they could have an increase in symptoms such as nose and eye itching, congestion, and sneezing. Make sure your child takes their daily allergy medications in preparation for the increased, prolonged pollen exposure. If your child takes medications on an as needed basis, provide these medications to camp personnel along with instructions. After spending time outdoors, it is important that children with pollen allergy take a bath or shower and change clothes when they come inside, especially before bed.

Asthma

Finally, for those children with asthma, pollen exposure, heat, humidity, and exercise are potential triggers for symptoms. Supply the camp with your child's asthma action plan outlining daily medications, as well as an escalation plan.

We always want to help kids with allergies and asthma enjoy the best quality of life possible. We do not want them to miss out on the fun of summer camp, field trips, sports and other common pleasures of childhood and adolescence. If your child has allergies or asthma, make sure you pick a camp that can meet your child's medical needs. With good communication between the child, family and camp staff/nurse, a child with allergies or asthma should be able to safely participate and benefit from the experience of summer camp.

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »