Examiner.com: Ensuring a safe summer camp experience for kids with allergies and asthma

June 1, 2016 7:24 AM MST

With proper precautions and planning, children with allergies or asthma can be safe and have fun at camp.

Summertime is camp time. But for parents of children with allergies or asthma, it can also be a time of deep anxiety as they send their kids off to day and sleep-away camps.

With proper precautions and advance planning, however, health experts say camp can be safe for kids with allergies, asthma and food allergies.

“Going to summer camp is a wonderful experience – something every kid who has asthma or allergies should be able to experience without worrying they might be in harm’s way,” allergist Myron Zitt, MD, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), said in a news release. “The key to enjoyment is advance planning, and making sure systems are in place to deal with an allergic response to an activity or a food trigger."

Before your child goes off to camp, the ACAAI recommends that you see your child’s allergist to be sure all prescriptions are in order and up-to-date. It is important to be sure doses are appropriate for your child’s height and weight, and that the quantities are enough to last the entire time your child is at camp. 

In addition, ask your child’s allergist to write an Allergy/Asthma Action Plan, which typically includes asthma, food allergy or seasonal allergy triggers and what to do in an emergency situation. It should also include a list of your child’s medicines, including daily doses and any warnings associated with the medicine, such as avoiding sun exposure while taking a particular drug.

According to the ACAAI, the key to keeping your child safe at day camp or sleep-away camp is ensuring that staff knows how to handle potential medical emergencies. They should be trained in what to do when a severe allergic reaction or asthma attack occurs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) guidelines recommend that children with asthma or allergies be taught how to use their EpiPens and asthma inhalers and that camp officials allow children to carry them at all times. 

“The delay that can occur when another camper or counselor has to run to the camp nurse’s office to grab an inhaler for a child who is having an asthma attack or an EpiPen for a child who has been stung by a bee can have real health consequences,” Edward Walton, FAAP, FACEP, division director, pediatric emergency medicine, William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oaks, MI, told Health Central.

Still, you should make sure the camp knows how to store the devices and that staff knows how to administer them if needed.

You should also inquire if there is a trained nurse on staff 24 hours a day and about the location of the nearest hospital. Find out if there is phone service/cell service from all areas of the camp, and if counselors have phones or two-way radios, in case of an emergency away from camp buildings.

If your child has a food allergy, communicate with kitchen staff to make sure there are no areas where cross contamination can take place. Ask how the camp communicates and monitors food allergy information and decide if their procedures are appropriate for your child. For example, does the camp allow parents to send care packages to campers? If so, are the foods monitored so they aren’t dangerous to kids with food allergies? If your child is attending a day camp, you might consider packing a lunch to be sure he or she is eating safe foods only.

“Going to camp to make new friends and have fun is something kids enjoy and remember for many years,” Bryan Martin, DO, president of the ACAAI, said in an April 12 news release. “But more importantly, for kids with asthma and allergies, going to camp can provide an opportunity to spread their wings and have some independence. It’s a way to prove to themselves, and to you, that they’re capable of handling their health challenges on their own.”