SUMMER CAMP AND FOOD ALLERGIES
by Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc
School's out and summer is officially here! Many families will soon be sending their children to summer camp. According to the American Camp Association, more than 11 million children and adults attend summer camps. Camps present wonderful experiences to build self-esteem and self-confidence, develop friendships, and work on social skills in a safe environment.
Children with food allergies have the same emotional and developmental needs as children without food allergies. Although participating in summer camps and growing from these experiences are important for all children, safety cannot be compromised. Having campers with food allergies requires camps to be ready. Food allergy management must be implemented at all times and in all settings. Proper planning and training is critical. Camp-wide food allergy awareness and the establishment of effective camp policies will allow inclusion of children with food allergies in all activities.
CAMP CHALLENGES AND NEEDS: Every camp is different, which allows families to choose a camp that fits their needs. They range from day camp (half to full day) to overnight camp. Some are all summer long, while others offer week-long sessions. Some staff members are local while others travel from different countries. Campers can range from preschoolers to young adults, with a wide range of developmental capabilities and needs. There are also many different characteristics of the camp to consider. Some camps are spread out over acres of property which might make them far from area hospitals. There could also be dead-zones where cell phone use is limited. Outside excursions from camp might be planned for a day or a week. Some camps are residential and campers might travel to a variety of buildings. Management of food allergies in camp can be challenging, and requires a well-educated camp community and the development of a strong partnership between the family, the camper with food allergies and the camp director, nurse and staff. Also important are good working relationships between parents and campers with and without food allergies. No matter the circumstances, the camp must implement prevention and preparedness measures at all times.
PREVENTION OF ALLERGIC REACTIONS: It is necessary to prevent allergic reactions from occurring by accurately reading labels, avoiding cross contact, knowing about hidden ingredients, not sharing food, and communicating effectively about the child's allergy. For more camp specific information see: Food Allergy Management in Camp: What Staff Need to Know.
PREPAREDNESS FOR ALLERGIC REACTIONS: The camp must always take into account emergency preparedness. All staff working with children with food allergies MUST be trained to prevent an accidental exposure, recognize allergic reactions and know how to respond to an allergic reaction with their camp's emergency protocol. Camps need to have working policies crafted around local and state regulations and guidelines. Additionally, camp policies need to take into consideration the potential for first-time allergic reactions while at camp. We know that nearly 25% of allergic reactions that require epinephrine in school occur in those with unknown allergies. For more camp specific information see Food Allergy Management in Camp: What Staff Need to Know.
PREPARATION BY THE PARENTS: Prior to registering for camp, confirm with the camp director or health officer that they have a food allergy policy that takes food allergy management into account at all times and in all locations. This is also the time to verify the status of a health officer at camp. Clarify if the camp has a nurse who is available on site at all times and if all staff are trained annually on the management of food allergies in camp. Prior to the start of camp, if possible, meet with the camp director, camp nurse and potentially nutrition services. Your child should have a new individual health care plan completed by your health care provider prior to camp and reviewed by the camp nurse before the start of the camp session. Make sure that you provide a copy of the Food Allergy Action Plan with a current picture and, if prescribed, at least 2 epinephrine auto-injectors. Consider sharing additional educational resources with your camp director or nurse to help facilitate camp-wide awareness.
FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS: Camp-wide food allergy awareness is the key to providing a safe and positive experience for food allergic campers. Thorough staff training is critical. Camp directors should ensure that adequate training by a medical professional has been completed prior to the start of camp. Emergency policies should be reviewed and understood by all staff. Providing food allergy awareness to the parents of campers without food allergies can also be a valuable approach that can help parents understand why certain policies exist and how following them protects children. Providing awareness to children without food allergies is also important. An understanding of why some kids do things a bit differently than others may decrease hostility and bullying. Hopefully with an educated camp community will come increased support for campers with food allergies and other special dietary restrictions.
Please note that this post is intended to increase awareness and encourage you to obtain more information from additional resources. Before making any changes in management please discuss with your healthcare provider, camp director and/or camp nurse.
Food Allergy Interview with American Camp Association, New England
12 Summer Camp Planning Tips to Make Summer Camp Safe for Your Child with Food Allergies
Making Summer Camp Safe: 12 Planning Tips KFA
Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc is a pediatric allergist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and is an instructor of pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital. He is the Chair of the Medical Advisory Team for Kids with Food Allergies Foundation and is a fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Dr. Pistiner is the father of a child with food allergies and a passionate food allergy educator and advocate. He is co-creator of AllergyHome.org http://www.allergyhome.org/ , a food allergy education site dedicated to providing practical teaching tools to those who care for children with food allergies. He serves as a voluntary consultant for the MA Department of Public Health, School Health Services and volunteers for multiple food allergy organizations including Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter, as well as the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. He received awards/recognition from FAAN in 2009, 2010, and 2011, as well as the American Medical Association Young Physician Section Community Service Award (2010) for his work on the Food Allergy Awareness in Restaurants Act. Additionally, he is the author of Everyday Cool With Food Allergies, a children's book designed to teach basic food allergy management skills to preschool and early school age children.