Off to Camp with Food Allergies: What You Need to Know
Summer camp can be a fun and rewarding experience for children. But what if your child has food allergies? Sending your child off to camp can be done – it just takes additional thought and planning to make sure you prepare your child for camp, send him or her with emergency medications, and ensure the camp staff is trained and prepared to manage food allergies or treat a reaction should one occur.
According to a recent study supported by the Food Allergy Initiative, 5.9 million children under the age of 18 have food allergies and 38.7% of these children have life threatening allergies. Needing to appropriately manage food allergies in the camp community and adds some complexity when filling up the lunch bags and planning activities, but parents can work with camp staff to help them recognize and avoid allergens and identify and react to threatening allergic reactions.
Knowing why it is that kids with food allergies need to do things a bit differently can go a long way to keeping communities from dividing over food allergy issues. Communication and understanding is key for everybody, because managing food allergies cannot be the sole responsibility of the child and the parents, since some children are too young to communicate what they need, and parents are not physically at camp. It therefore requires understanding and effort on the part of the surrounding community as well as the families of kids with food allergies to help prevent allergic reactions from occurring, recognize allergic reactions when they do occur, and know how to respond to an allergic reaction with the appropriate emergency medicine and procedures to protect that child.
I am passionate about food allergy education for the entire community and have contributed toward the development of two resources created for this purpose.
The first, a free allergy education website, AllergyHome.org, offers education that addresses many different allergic disorders.
- Found here is a free, 4 ½ minute slide show with audio created to educate elementary school age children without food allergies. This short introduction to food allergy management can also be used to educate parents of children without food allergies.
- There is also a set of an interactive True/False questions that hopefully dispel some common myths about allergies. We hope they are used to increase food allergy awareness while reviewing some important skills for managing food allergies.
- For those who want more information, please see a food allergy awareness module. This free resource is designed to increase camp staff food allergy awareness. It details some of the steps that need to be taken to ensure the safety of students with food allergies at summer camp.
The second resource is Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, a children’s book designed to help parents and caregivers teach basic food allergy management skills to preschool and early school age children. This can be used not only to teach young kids with food allergies but also to teach their non allergic friends.
Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc is a pediatric allergist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and an instructor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School. He practices at Harvard Vanguard’s Burlington, Kenmore, and Wellesley practice sites.