The day I picked up my older child from an outdoors camp, my youngest stepped two feet from our car and got bit by an insect above her right heel. Within 30 minutes the swelling had started. The next day we were at the clinic because she was having trouble walking on her foot. She wasn’t old enough for camp, yet all I could think about was how will I be able to send her to away with her allergies?
When 12-year-old Jeffrey Cargile goes off to camp, his mom, Debbie, takes measures for managing his peanut allergies. “I speak to the adults that Jeffrey will be around, and I attach a list of instructions to the camp’s medical form. I make sure that wherever he goes, his epinephrine injection (epi pen) is with him.” On this list she describes what happens when her son has a reaction to peanuts, his doctors' phone numbers, and her emergency contact info.
“I check the menus and consult managers about how they handle food allergies,” she says. Debbie has taught her son to read food labels and he knows what he can and cannot eat. She is also considering a medical bracelet that will list his allergies in case of an emergency.
Put Together a Checklist
Anne and Dennis Smith, directors of Victory Ranch camp, are preparing for the summer ahead. Their camp runs seven weeks and hosts approximately 900 campers. “We work with kids on an individual basis when they come to our camp with manageable medical issues to ensure a wonderful experience,” says Anne Smith. Some of those issues are food allergies such as peanut, egg, and gluten, as well as pet allergies, pollen, hay fever, dust, and minor asthma issues.
Respiratory therapist Tina Pitts RRT-NPS from LeBohneur Children’s Research Hospital advises parents to consult with the camp director and use the camp's checklist in preparing for camp. When sending meds along with your child, “Make sure all medications are labeled with prescription from the doctor,” says Pitts. The American Camp Association requires that a licensed physician or registered nurse be on-site daily at resident camps. They also require parents know how soon they will receive notification of an illness or injury. Ask the camp director how they manage episodes. At Victory Ranch, the nurse has each parent complete a form that asks when they desire a phone call in the case of an emergency.
See a Doctor Before Camp
The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org) recommends that if your child has any form of a manageable illness that he or she make an additional visit to the doctor to ensure that all issues are well controlled with current medications. “Each child must have a completed medical form signed by a physician stating a physical has been done and that their vaccinations are up to date,” Smith states. If the child’s issues are food related, she says, “We will work with the parent regarding our menu. The parent can bring food to supplement what we’re already serving if needed.” If the food issue relates to peanuts, Anne Smith adds, “It’s the parent’s choice to make the entire week peanut-free.”
Pitts says, “Children with allergies or issues such as asthma can be hyper-sensitive to environmental matters such as bites or stings from bugs, therefore increasing the chance of a bad reaction.” Stay away from aerosols for both insect repellent and sun screens. “We recommend wipe-on insect repellent, odorless if possible,” says Pitts.
At Le Bonheur’s Camp Wezbegon, a camp for children with asthma, each morning begins with a lung test. “Before any activity is done the child pre-treats with albuterol, then they re-treat afterwards if needed.” Swimming is an excellent summer camp activity because it has lower exposure to environmental allergens and it helps strengthen the lungs according to Pitts.
Even though these medical issues are manageable, given the right circumstances they can turn critical. “It all depends on the child; each reaction will be different in severity,” says Pitts. She also cautions that epi pens, used to open the airways in case of anaphylaxis swelling, are short acting. “You need one epi pen for every 30 minutes away from the emergency room.” The camp director can inform you which emergency room they use and how long it takes to get there.
If you are a parent of a child with manageable medical issues, sending her off to camp can bring anxiety. To help ease your worry, do your homework, and consider getting a medical alert bracelet if necessary. Preparation will help your child have a great camp experience — and bring you peace of mind.