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How to prepare for camp when your child has severe allergies

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Keep your child safe at camp

Summer camp for kids with severe allergies is possible and can be done safely with planning, communication and care from Mom and Dad.

Packing your kid off to summer camp can be anxiety-ridden no matter what, but if your child has a severe allergy, it can make you rethink the decision. Fortunately, you can prepare yourself, your child and camp staff ahead of time to help tone down your worry and let your child enjoy her camp experience.

Kids with allergies and camp

Dr. Hemant Sharma, associate chief of the division of allergy and immunology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, was on hand to answer a few questions about the risks kids with severe food allergies face when going away to summer camp. He says the main risk is, of course, accidental exposure to an allergen despite careful plans to avoid it. "For example, children with food allergies who eat meals at camp could accidentally ingest something they are allergic to and experience a life-threatening reaction, or anaphylaxis," he explains. "The same risk exists for a child with an insect venom allergy who gets stung at an outdoor camp."

How to choose a good camp

Choosing a good camp is vital, but what should parents look for when they make the decision? Dr. Sharma says that moms and dads should always keep a child's primary health care provider's information handy wherever he may be, and should also take into consideration the distance from the camp to the nearest hospital. How quickly can emergency personnel arrive, if needed? If the camp administrators don't know, you should phone the nearest hospital, which can provide you with an estimate.

Another area of utmost importance is interviewing camp personnel. "Parents should ask camp administrators about their procedures for avoiding allergic triggers and communicating campers' allergy information and anaphylaxis action plan to staff," shares Dr. Sharma. "Finally, it is helpful to know whether the camp has previously dealt with children with severe allergies and has a set procedure in place for training staff and managing reactions."

Have an action plan

Once you select a summer camp for your kiddo, you're going to want to have an action plan in place before you wave goodbye. Definitely communicate your child's severe allergy before his first day and make sure that all adults who will be with your child are aware of the situation.

"Parents should also provide the camp with a written anaphylaxis action plan for their child, including a list of the allergic triggers to avoid, potential symptoms of a reaction and medications to administer in the event of a reaction," says Dr. Sharma. "The child's emergency medications, including epinephrine auto-injectors, should be provided to the camp and accessible at all times (be sure to check the expiration date!) and if they are used, staff should know to seek emergency medical care immediately."

Many camps will already have blank action plans for kids with severe allergies that you can fill out. You may be asked to have your child's doctor sign off on it or provide guidance as you make your child's needs known.

Also, it's key to educate your child. "Parents should also remind their child to avoid their triggers, for example if the child has a food allergy, by not trading food or eating foods with uncertain ingredients," recommends Dr. Sharma.

Dr. Sharma recommends that parents can feel more comfortable and confident by communicating with the camp's administrators, having an action plan in place prior to the first day and helping their child learn the ins and outs of his allergy. He also suggests learning even more at Anaphylaxis 101 to help your family prepare for the adventures that await you.

More on allergies

Do kids with food allergies inconvenience "normal" kids?
How to manage your kids' food allergies at school
Essentials for families with food allergies

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