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Coming in Hot: Dr. Sweeney’s Summer Day Camp Hacks for Food Allergy Families

Julie Sweeney, MD is an Allergy Mom, Board-Certified Pediatrician and Parent Coach. She helps Backstop families navigate the world of food allergies, from ball fields to clinical tests, to school cafeterias. 

As we all make the shift from wrapping up an unconventional school year and pivot to the summer season, Dr. Sweeney walks us through how we can best prepare our families, our kids, and ourselves for camp. 

As the school year is finally wrapping up and it’s time for summer,  I’ve been prepping for summer camps.  As an allergy parent, I had a familiar thought: “What am I forgetting?” This year, I’m sharing my list wide and far, because so many of us have the same action items we’re trying to cram in between celebrating the end of the year and diving into summer.

As a doctor and parent coach, especially after experiencing a year that may have included a lot of worry, I know you want your child to have an amazing summer. Here are some tips for planning ahead so food allergies can’t stop your kids from having the fun, carefree summer they deserve. 

Communication

  • Make sure you communicate with the camp director before camp starts. Discuss their allergy action plan and teach them about your child’s medications. If you have an extra set of medicine, hand it over so they can store it in a safe place. 
  • Let them know that the epinephrine autoinjectors need to be temperature controlled and can’t sit in the hot sun for any length of time. Mention that this doesn’t mean they should be refrigerated either, but should be stored at room temperature. 
  • Ask if all the staffers trained on how to use an autoinjector. You could leave the trainer with them to practice, or better yet, offer to show them how and when to use it. Add key staff to your Backstop app team so they can watch the videos about anaphylaxis and how to use the epinephrine auto-injectors.
  • Update your Backstop App and put the new devices/expiration dates in your child’s profile. Double check that their allergen list is up to date, and be sure to share the app with counselors and the camp director. If the counselor has no internet access in the middle of the woods, or at the swimming hole, the app will still guide them. 
  • Most camps require paper medical forms and emergency plans, so fill those out too. While you’re at it, make sure you have doctor appointments scheduled so you can update forms for back-to-school. Lots of pediatricians have a longer backlog than usual for annual physicals, due to COVID safety protocols.

Snack/Lunch

  • Discuss with the camp director how they handle camper snack and lunch. Do they provide food? If so, you may want to ask to pack your own snack or lunch for your child. 
  • Depending on the age of your child, you could suggest they make a rule about not sharing food. Another suggestion would be to have the children wash their hands before and after eating.
  • Consider asking that the camp let the parents in your child’s group know that there is a severe allergy in the group, and that they should avoid sending their camper with certain foods. They can do this via email, text, or verbal announcement to make sure everyone gets the message.

What to Pack

  • In addition to your child’s emergency medications, don’t forget to apply sunscreen each morning and pack a safe sunscreen for your child if they will need to reapply.
  • Packing your child’s epinephrine in a brightly colored medical bag helps ensure the injector (and inhaler, if they use one) stays intact and easy-to-find if it needs to be grabbed quickly.
  • Label everything with your child’s name, and parent contact information. Chances are, your child is not the only camper arriving with severe allergies.
  • Check on the COVID protocols at your child’s camp. If kids are masking up, pack some backups, in case their mask gets wet or dirty.

Teens and Tweens

  • Empower your older camper to learn how and when to use their autoinjector. Ask your pediatrician, if you are not sure if they are ready for this responsibility. 
  • Even if they’re not ready to inject you can role play and have them practice with the trainer. Preteens love being given some independence, and if you know they could use their own epinephrine in case of emergency, it will give you some much needed peace of mind.

For lots of kids and parents, this summer offers a much-needed break, and a chance for everyone to have some fun and reclaim their independence after a lot of together time. Sending your child to camp could be more emotional than usual this year, and it’s normal for hugs to be a little tighter this time, and for there to be a few parting tears. Just remember that these sorts of experiences build confidence, resilience and social skills.  

Be safe, be prepared, and soak up the moment too. This is a special time for everyone to recharge, whether that means making new friends, discovering unexplored places, or trying out a new activity. After a year that may have presented few of those things, it’s ok if it feels a little strange at first. That’s just part of the process. One flip flop in front of the other. You’ve got this.

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