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Posted on: July 05, 2019

For families everywhere, going to summer camp for the first time is a big deal for both the parents and child. Spending multiple nights away from home can be a significant transition for a child that is often compared to learning how to ride a bike, leaving the country for the first time or even earning a driver’s license. For each of these milestones that encourage a newfound freedom, there are certain risks that come with them. Whether it’s riding a bike, driving a car or going off to summer camp, many parents wonder whether or not their child is going to be okay. Will my child be safe in this new and unfamiliar environment?

Summertime for Children with Allergies or Asthma

When parents send their child off to summer camp for the first time, it is natural to have concerns; however, when their child has a chronic medical condition such as allergies or asthma, this can contribute to additional parental concerns. All of these are warranted, and it is natural for parents to feel concerned. After all, parents would never let their child ride a bike without a helmet or allow them to drive a car without a learner’s permit or license. Therefore, why would parents send their children to a new place, such as summer camp, without the proper precautions? 

Parents need to know that as long as they take the right precautions, send their child to camp with the right equipment, and educate their child and those around them about their condition, they are going to be fine. In actuality, their child should be having the time of their lives. After all, aren’t they at summer camp to have fun and learn something new? With this goal in mind; what should parents send their child to summer camp with if they have allergies?

Camp Checklist for Allergy Sufferers

What to bring to summer camp for children with allergies and asthma.

When parents start packing for their kid’s summer camp, they are likely going to think about the number of pairs of underwear and socks, their toothbrush, a bathing suit and goggles. Most importantly, it is vital for parents to make sure that their children have the medications that they need to keep any chronic medical conditions under control. This means allergies and asthma. Some of the most important things to remember including:

Epinephrine Auto-injectorChildren who have a history of allergic reactions are probably going to have an epinephrine auto-injector.  Make sure that the child has this epinephrine auto-injector with them when they leave for summer camp. Ensure that it is not expired, appropriate for their weight, and that the child knows how to use this in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, call the camp and ask what their policy is about having children carry their epinephrine auto-injector versus having it held by a staff member. Ensure that the staff is aware of your child’s allergies, knows how to recognize the symptoms of severe allergies and how to use the epinephrine auto-injector. 

Rescue InhalerFor children with asthma, it is important to make sure that they have their rescue inhaler. Common brand names for rescue inhalers are Proventil, Ventolin, Xopenex and ProAir.  Again, make sure that the inhaler is not expired (and also not empty). Make sure that the child is comfortable using their inhaler. Even though the vast majority of summer camps are going to have counselors who are comfortable using both epinephrine auto-injector and rescue inhalers, it is a good idea for parents to call ahead and make sure that this is the case. In addition, children who need a spacer for their inhaler also need to make sure that they have this with them.

Daily MedicationsMany children with asthma and allergies also take daily medications to reduce the risk of an exacerbation. These could include medications such as Singulair, Flovent, Advair, Symbicort to name a few. Ensure that the child has enough doses of these medications to get them through summer camp. A weekly pill box could prove extremely helpful in this situation.

In addition to the potentially lifesaving medications, there are also some other items that parents will want to pack for their children. These include:

☐ Choose Clothing CarefullyFor children who are allergic to certain types of bugs and insects, remember that these animals are attracted to brightly colored clothing. Choosing darker clothes may prevent a child from being bitten or stung by something that they are allergic to. Finding breathable items that cover more skin is also encouraged. 

☐  Bug sprayBug spray is also important for protecting children with allergies to insects. Try to pick the bugs spray carefully. Some bug sprays are more effective against certain types of insects than others.

 ShoesWhile the heat causes children to gravitate more toward flip-flops or sandals, shoes will prevent children from stepping on or in something that could bite them. Particularly for children who are allergic to ants and might step in an anthill, shoes are a must.

☐ SunscreenSunscreen is essential for every summer camp; however, sunscreen that has a strong scent might actually start to attract certain types of bugs or insects. Find an unscented sunscreen that still protects against UVA and UVB and is moisture resistant.

Avoidance should be the top priority once children get to summer camp. These measures will reduce the risk of a serious allergy or asthma attack developing. On the other hand, it is always better to be prepared. Therefore, what should parents and camp staff keep in mind when it comes to a potential allergy or asthma attack?

Is a Child Having an Allergic Reaction?

For parents of older children, their child will likely know if they are having an allergic reaction. On the other hand, it is also critically important for parents to ensure that the camp staff can tell if a child is having an allergic reaction. Some of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • The development of hives, which are red spots of swelling on the skin
  • Itching either at the spot of contact or all over the body
  • Sneezing and/or a runny nose
  • The development of a rash
  • A feeling that the throat is scratchy or hard to clear
  • Itchy, watery, or red eyes, known as conjunctivitis

Even though these are some of the most common signs of an allergic reaction, there is one particularly severe form of reaction called anaphylaxis. This is the term used to describe the appearance of a sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction that constitutes a medical emergency. Some of the most common signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Any of the symptoms of an allergic reaction
  • Severe, intractable nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • The sound of audible wheezing as a child is breathing
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Confusion
  • A feeling of impending doom

If the child is having an anaphylactic reaction, he or she needs his or her epinephrine auto-injector immediately. Follow the instructions that are printed on the package. Once the dose of epinephrine is given, the child should start to feel better relatively quickly. On the other hand, this might only be temporary. Any child who is given a dose from his or her epinephrine auto-injector needs to go to the Emergency Room immediately.

Anaphylactic reactions are life threatening. It is crucial for parents, the child, and the camp staff to understand what to do if someone is exhibiting signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.

Is My Child Having an Asthma Attack?

Children with asthma should always make sure that they know what their triggers are. Young children may not yet know what triggers an asthma attack in their situation. Some of the most common triggers of an asthma attack include:

  • Cold
  • Dust
  • Mites
  • Insects
  • Mold 
  • Exercise

When exposed to an asthma trigger, there are a few common symptoms that indicate an asthma attack is developing. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • The child will start to breathe more quickly
  • Observers may notice that the child’s belly is moving in and out in an effort to inhale more deeply
  • When the child breaths, his or her ribs might show, termed retractions
  • Audible wheezing
  • A cough that won’t seem to go away and doesn’t bring up any mucus
  • Profuse sweating
  • Difficulty speaking in complete sentences
  • A look or feeling of panic

If the child is having signs and symptoms of an asthma attack, he or she will need his or her albuterol inhaler. Many children who have an albuterol inhaler will also have a spacer. Make sure that this is used with the inhaler. Follow the dosing instructions on the packaging and ensure that the child receives the proper number of puffs. The child should start to feel better. If the child does not feel better, or if the child needs the albuterol re-dosed within a couple of hours, the child needs to go to the Emergency Room to receive further medical care. 

Asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Parents, their child and the camp staff need to know how to react to the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack. This starts with providing this information to everyone at the summer camp.

Further Questions?

If your child is going away to summer camp for the first time with allergies, it can be a worrisome sendoff. To ensure that both you and your child can experience this life-changing experience to its fullest, you can schedule a consultation with your local board-certified allergists at Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center. If you have any questions that were not covered in this article, call or contact us to schedule an appointment today.