Summer is upon us, and our children are out of school and on to summer fun! Summertime activities often bring involvement in new sports and outdoor activities and the ever-anticipated summer camp. But depending on the type of camp your child participates in, it could mean days, nights, weeks or even months away from home and the protective eye of allergy-aware parents. Since exposure to food allergens can be life threatening, camp staff, parents, other kids and the campers themselves must be diligent and work together to reduce the risk of accidental exposure.
Additionally, camp organizers and staff must have medications, emergency action plans and other procedures in place. They must also be proficient at implementing them in the event it becomes necessary. So, what can parents do to find an allergy-friendly summer camp program, regardless of the duration?
Finding a Camp
Many summer camps across the country remove certain allergens from their sites, create emergency action plans and procedures for allergic reaction, and employ medical professionals who are trained in administering epinephrine in case of accidental exposure. The goal of these camps is to create a space for children with specific food allergies, or that welcome children with various food allergies. But where are these camps? And how can a parent find a list of options?
- Directories – The Food Allergy Research and Education program (FARE) publishes a directory of food allergy-friendly camps found in several states across the country. Other organizations also publish directories of camps designed for a specific allergy, or that consider multiple allergy issues. An internet search for lists of allergy-friendly summer camps reveals a multitude of directories and camps throughout the country.
- Questions to Ask – Once you’ve found a list of summer camps near you, it’s time to do a little research about the individual programs to see if they are a good match for you and your child. Some questions to ask can include:
- Which, if any, allergens have been removed from the program?
- What other precautions have been taken to reduce accidental exposure to allergens?
- Is there a doctor or other medical professional on duty at all times?
- Who are they and what are their credentials?
- Who is in charge in that person’s absence?
- How far away is the nearest medical treatment facility?
- What is the response time of emergency responders?
- If a rural area, are emergency responders volunteers? And do they have sufficient training to deal with allergy emergencies?
- Are there camp-led trips that may increase this time/distance?
- Do travel camp staff carry 2-way radios for communication when away from camp on trips with the campers?
- Do travel camp staff have enough medication to administer when away?
- Do travel camp staff know how to summon emergency responders when away from camp?
- How does the camp generally monitor and communicate food allergy information regarding kids at the camp?
- Are there any limitations to the camp’s ability to care for your child?
What to do After You’ve Found a Camp
After you’ve found an allergy-friendly camp that is right for you and your child, there are a few more steps you’ll need to take. No matter how many precautions have been taken, protocols implemented and emergency action plans created, the best way to deal with allergens is to avoid them. It is important to discuss with your child what he or she might expect while away, and what they should do to avoid contact with foods that could cause an allergic reaction. Although you’ve likely already had numerous discussions with your child about how to avoid certain foods and what to do in an allergy emergency, it could be very helpful to go over it all again before they head off for the summer. Topics could include:
- Recognizing safe and unsafe foods, including those with unknown ingredients
- Strategies to avoid contact with allergens
- Recognizing signs of allergic reaction and how to report it to a responsible adult
- How to use medications and epinephrine injectors
Remember to also give the following information to the camp:
- A list of your child’s allergies and usual reactions to allergens
- The name of your child’s primary care physician
- An ample supply of needed medications that are not expired or close to expiration
An allergy-friendly summer camp program can help create a fun atmosphere for your child to continue learning, exploring and remaining active without sacrificing safety.
Know of any directories for allergy-friendly summer camps in your area or across the country? Have you found a summer camp you love or have an experience with summer camps you’d like to share? Join the conversation and let us know your ideas, opinions and experiences in the comments below.