Although Little Guy is only 5 years old, I often envision how we’ll plan for activities as he gets older since he has multiple food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy and sesame. So far we’re getting pretty good at planning for the usual pizza and cake laden birthday parties, but we have so many more activities to plan for in the future.
Summer camp is one of those activities.
Staying safe with food allergies at summer camp is possible, but it takes a lot of planning! (Just like everything else we do as parents of children with food allergies).
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Martha White, a Washington, D.C.-based, nationally recognized pediatric and adult allergy specialist. She’s also a founding board member of the Allergy & Asthma Network.
She offered some great tips for staying safe at summer camp that I thought might be useful to you.
Here is a summary of my Q&A session with Dr. White:
Q: As food allergy parents, we do a lot of planning. How should parents evaluate and plan for their child’s summer camp experience?
A: It’s important to do your homework and keep open communication with your camp. Make sure you look at the camp’s website and ask about any policies for food allergic children.
Ask who is trained to recognize anaphylaxis and administer epinephrine. The ideal situation would be for all of the staff to be trained. At a minimum, the counselors, kitchen staff and bus/van driver must be trained. Also ask if your child will be allowed to carry his/her own epinephrine.
Q: On that note, what age do you recommend children carry their own epinephrine at camp?
A: It really varies by child. However, the camp policies sometimes dictate whether or not a child can carry their own epinephrine. There is really no magic age. You have to decide based upon your child.
Q: How do you recommend keeping epinephrine at the right temperature during hot summer camp days?
A: Epinephrine should be stored at room temperature at all times. That’s about 66 – 77 degrees. When outdoors, make sure to keep it out of the sun. Bring a dark bag/backpack to keep it in so the sun doesn’t get through to it. Try to keep it under towels or a shaded area. Children need to know not to jump in the water with it too.
*Mamacado note – we love the FRIO Bag (affiliate) for sunny summer trips. This might also be a solution for very hot days at summer camp.
Q: If a camp is not close to a hospital, should a parent not even consider sending their child to that camp?
A: The camp should be within about 10-15 minutes of emergency care. This could be something like a hospital or urgent care center. It’s important that a rescue squad can get to the camp within about 10-15 minutes and deliver treatment for follow-up. You have to consider distance especially if your child will take long trips outside of camp to remote areas, like a canoe trip.
Q: What “red flags” should a parent look for when deciding where to send their child to camp?
A: It’s probably a red flag if the camp:
- Has no knowledge of or previous experience with food allergies.
- Has no food allergy policy or procedure for children with food allergies.
- Only trains the health room staff. All staff should be trained.
- Is restrictive about how children can carry epinephrine.
Q: As parents, we'll hopefully do our part in preparing the summer camp to keep our child safe. But what are the top ways parents can prepare their child for camp?
A: Parents can prepare their child for summer camp by:
- Making sure the child knows what they're allergic to, and they know to say things like "I’m allergic to milk, does this have milk in it?” They should know their allergens and how to avoid their allergens.
- Teaching children symptoms of an allergic reaction. Teach them that an allergic reaction might feel like an itchy throat, tight chest, rash, or just a strange feeling. If they feel funny, they need to tell an adult that, “I’m allergic to food and I feel sick”. I have 6 year olds practice saying that with me in the office.
- Teaching teenagers how to give themselves epinephrine.
- Informing children that there is a food allergy plan in place with the camp.
Dr. White is a paid spokesperson of Mylan Specialty, the marketer and distributor of EpiPen®. I was not compensated in any way for this post. I was truly interested in speaking to an expert about staying safe with food allergies at summer camp.
You might be interested in these other food allergy focused summer camp resources: