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Summer Camps and Allergies: What Parents Need to Know

Going off to summer camp is a rite of passage akin to learning to ride a bike and getting a driver’s license.

But like each of those milestones, it can cause parents to worry. Is my child going to be OK? Is this safe? What if…?

For children with allergies and/or asthma, summer camp could heighten those parental concerns. Cautious parents wouldn’t send their children on a bike without a helmet or let them drive a car without a license, say Drs. Andrew Collins and Roopen Patel of Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center. The same goes for sending a child off to summer camp. As long as parents take the proper precautions and ask the right questions, your child will be fine, according to both physicians. Better than fine, he or she will be at summer camp!

Patel recommends taking the C.U.T. approach to “cutting” out worries about sending a child to summer camp.

Controlling your child’s allergies and asthma prior to starting camp sets the stage for a fun and safe environment. Discuss with your allergist if your child is on the appropriate medication several weeks prior to the camp dates. Your doctor can also help to create an action plan for most scenarios. Then everyone, including the camp counselors, will be on the same team!  

Understanding the triggers for your child’s allergic reactions and asthma is the first critical step to ensure a safe and wonderful summer camp experience. For example, a child with asthma may have symptoms after exposure to excessive heat or exertion. It’s important to make sure the child has access to medications like inhalers to help alleviate symptoms if the need arises.

Talking about the conditions and triggers with the appropriate personnel at the camp is the next critical step. Allergies and asthma have become commonplace in our part of the world. However, discussing a child’s medical conditions and medications with the appropriate personnel at the camp should still be part of the process. A list of the child’s food allergies is also important to communicate. Many camps may be able to make accommodations if they are notified in advance. Additionally, most camps have people on staff who know how to use an inhaler or injectable epinephrine (EpiPen), but it’s always helpful to call ahead and find out for sure. You’ll feel more at ease knowing someone on staff is knowledgeable about your child’s allergies and/or asthma needs.

On that note, camps likely have different procedures on whether or not a child is allowed to carry his or her own EpiPen, so this is also something you’ll want to discuss with the camp prior to your child attending. You’ll feel more at ease knowing someone on staff is knowledgeable about your child’s allergies and/or asthma needs.

While Patel’s approach is a great start, he and Collins acknowledge that likely won’t answer every question or worry cautionary parents have before sending their children off to summer camp. Below, you’ll find additional questions:

Will my child be bullied by other children if they find out about my child’s allergy?

“Bullying is a problem that many children with food allergies experience,” Patel says. “Most situations can be avoided by communicating the risks of food allergies with the other children at the camp. The more people who understand the life-threatening nature of food allergies, the safer the environment will be.”

What about outdoor allergens like bee stings or ant bites?

Tackling this issue is the same at home, Patel says. “Avoidance is the No. 1 priority,” he says, adding that access to an EpiPen is critical, and that an emergency plan discussion should be had prior to the child starting camp. Bees are often attracted to brightly colored clothes and scented oils, perfumes and lotions, so children with allergies to stinging insects should avoid these. Additionally, bees, wasps and other stinging insects often congregate around garbage cans, open food, wood piles and around beams and overhangs of buildings, so children with allergies to these insects should avoid as much as possible these places. Lastly, Collins advised, children with allergies to ants should always wear shoes when walking in grass.

If my child has allergies or asthma, shouldn’t I just consider indoor summer camps?

Not necessarily, Collins says. “If you’re worried about your child being unable to tolerate being at an outdoor summer camp because of asthma or allergy symptoms, always contact your doctor first,” he says.

The bottom line, as always, is talk to your child’s allergist or physician. If parents take the proper precautions in place, summer camp will likely be the pinnacle summer experience. 


Drs. Andrew Collins and Roopen Patel of Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center

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