Every summer thousands of children attend summer camps, whether just for the day or heading off for the full sleepaway experience. While it can be an exciting, liberating, and educational time for the child, summer camp season can be a nervous few weeks for parents.
While you can’t be there at the camp with your son or daughter, there are a number of things you can do before you send them off to help ensure their safety. We asked Dori Anchin, M.D., attending pediatrician at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, for some idea of what parents should keep in mind from a medical perspective before they send their children off to summer camp.
Q. What sort of medical documentation should a parent prepare and send to the camp before the summer session begins?
A. Every child should have an up-to-date [within the last year] physical exam by his or her pediatrician with all medical conditions accurately listed on the exam form. Also, parents should supply their child’s camp with an accurate and up-to-date medication list with administration instructions.
In addition, and particularly with regard to sleepaway camps, parents should ensure their child is up to date on all immunizations, especially the meningitis vaccine. Children age 11 years or older should get a meningitis vaccine. Meningitis is of particular concern when children are living in close quarters with other children.
Q. How can a parent ensure a camp is safe for a child who has severe allergies?
A. If your child has a food, medication, or other type of allergy, this important information should be clearly listed on the aforementioned physical form. I highly recommend providing the camp with an “allergy action plan” so that the camp knows what medication should be administered in the event of an exposure to the allergen. For children with severe food allergies, parents should ensure that the camp can provide a safe environment for their child. Many camps in this area are nut-free and do not allow children, parents or anyone to bring food into the camp. I usually encourage children who have severe allergies to wear identifying wrist bracelets. It’s not required, but it’s highly recommended.
Q. In your opinion, what is the single most important safety issue for parents to keep in mind with regards to summer camp?
A. I always emphasize sun protection. Every child should use sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy. Children should be encouraged to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. I encourage parents to apply sunscreen to their children in the morning before sending them to day camp, and then encourage the camp to remind children to reapply sunscreen after swimming. Also, sunglasses should be encouraged because UV radiation can be damaging to the eyes.
Q. Is there anything else a parent should be concerned about with regards to the sun?
A. Parents need to be aware of heat-related injuries, because children are more susceptible to extreme temperatures than adults. Children are vulnerable to heat-related dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Parents should make sure that their child has frequent access to drinking water during the day. If it is extremely hot on any given day and if the child does not have access to frequent swimming, air conditioning or other ways to cool down, a parent should consider keeping their child from camp on those days.
Q. Can a parent assume a camp will provide enough sunscreen for their child?
A. No, most camps require that children bring and use their own sunscreen. Depending on the child, different types or strengths of sunscreens are required, and it is the parent’s responsibility to provide the appropriate sunscreen for their child.
Q. What else should you send to camp with your child?
A. Insect protection is very important as well. We live in an area that is endemic for Lyme disease. I encourage the use of insect repellent if children are going to be in an environment where they will be exposed to ticks or mosquitoes. Parents with children attending day camp should do daily tick checks each evening. This is very, very important. If parents do spot a tick on their child they should remove it immediately and contact their pediatrician.
Q. Are there any insect repellents that are better than others?
A. Products containing DEET are best.
Q. Are all DEET insect repellents the same?
A. A product containing between 10% and 30% DEET is recommended. The effectiveness of 10% and 30% is similiar; the difference is just the time that it provides protection. 10% DEET provides two hours of protection, while 30% provides five hours of protection. You want to choose the lowest percentage to provide the required length of coverage, but anything up to 30% is safe in children over two months of age.
Q. What about products that are a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent?
A. I discourage using products that are a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent because sunscreen should be reapplied often throughout the day and insect repellent should not be.
Q. What about a child’s medication?
A. For the most part, camps usually require medication in its original packaging in the nurse’s office for the nurse to administer. It should be in its original packaging so there is no doubt as to what medication and strength is being given. Dosage should be set by a medical professional and not left up to the child.
For a child with asthma, parents and pediatricians should make sure the child is optimized on his or her medication regimen, especially if the child will be outdoors and exerting his or herself in the heat.
Summer is a fantastic time for kids to be outdoors, exercise, and have a wonderful time. But parents need to be aware of the specific dangers of the summer and how to keep their children safe.
David Neilsen is a frequent contributor to Westchester Family and father of two.
Dori Anchin, M.D., attending pediatrician at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospitalat Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, the children’s hospital for Westchester County & the Hudson Valley
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