Children with food allergies heading to summer camp may be at greater risk for adverse reactions compared to when they’re at school.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the reasons are numerous: People who don’t know them well are supervising them, food sharing may be more common, epinephrine autoinjectors (EpiPens) may not be available, and emergency medical services may be a long distance away.
Can you send your child to summer camp and still relax while she’s there? Whether your child attends a sleep-away camp or a day camp, food allergies can make you more nervous than usual.
Here are some tips as you plan your child’s time away:
Ensure there is a Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan in place. This is a written plan of instructions for the camp director based on recommendations from your child’s health provider — an allergist or physician treating your child for food allergies — that clearly states what to do if an allergic reaction happens. Be sure to include a recent photo of your child with it.
Talk with the food service director about your child’s allergies and ask to review the menu and its ingredients. In addition, “Bring outside foods to camp that are safe for your child to eat as close to the foods which will be served,” says registered dietician Lisa Musician, president of Food Allergy Dietitian, Inc. and the author of “Parenting a Positive Reaction: A parent’s guide to help promote safe care at school for your food allergy child.”
“Offer additional suggestions on how to make the meals ‘allergy-friendly,’ or offer to go shopping with the person who is responsible for the food,” she adds. If the camp is having the meals catered off-site, contact the owner and create a meal plan for your child.
Ask about food allergy training and emergency protocol. “Find out how far it is from camp to a source of medical attention with additional epinephrine if necessary,” advises Musician, whose grown children have multiple food allergies with a history of anaphylaxis. “Also, it’s important to know in advance what type of ambulance will respond to the 911 calling in the event your child needs medical assistance if epinephrine is used.”
Because not all levels of ambulances are equipped with epinephrine, the camp should request a higher-lever ambulance that carries epinephrine on board.
Review your child’s medications well before he departs for camp. Ensure that the required medication forms are completed by your child’s health provider and in place. And pack those meds! A recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice found that only two out of five campers with food allergies were found to have brought an EpiPen to camp.
And verify that staff will carry your child’s meds when on outings.
Ask how your child will be identified with easy visibility as a reminder to the staff about food allergies. Even seemingly innocuous activities such as hitting a piñata could spell danger if it’s filled with candy.
Calmly discuss with your child what to do about his food allergies. Children old enough to be away at camp are old enough to advocate for themselves regarding their food allergies.
While it is nerve-wracking to send your food-allergic child to camp, she CAN have a safe and enjoyable experience while she’s there. “Remind your child to enjoy the experience of camp and to focus on the fun while being mindful of safe food choices,” adds Musician.
Christine M. Palumbo is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Naperville, Ill., who sorely wants a breakthrough in the prevention of food allergies. Find her at Christine Palumbo Nutrition on Facebook, @PalumboRD on Twitter or Chris