Classroom Tips

Allergies at summer camp 101: Here's what you need to know

Allergies are no joke. A tree nut on a plate it shouldn’t be on, or an egg on the wrong sandwich can cause serious harm to campers, and quickly bring down the mood at your camp. When it comes to mitigating the impacts of allergies, the power comes in the form of knowledge. Knowing what they are, making a plan for if they occur, and working to prevent reactions, are all important steps for you and your counselors. Looking for more support to jumpstart your camp? Check out our ultimate guide to starting and running a kids camp.

Let’s break down some of this information.

What are food allergies?

According to the Food Allergy Research & Education center, an allergy is an “abnormal response by the immune system to a food protein. The immune system is designed to protect the body from harm, but in the case of food allergy, it is trying to protect the body from something that is actually benign — food.”

Basically, when a child eats some food that their immune system deems to be harmful, massive amounts of histamine are released to attack that food. But here’s the catch, instead of protecting the body, the released chemicals cause harm, especially with a severe allergic reaction.

What are the most common food allergies?

There are hundreds of forms of allergic reactions, so preparing for all of them might seem difficult. Keeping your campers safe should come down to risk management, and ensuring you’re keeping the most common foods that lead to allergies out of reach. Food allergies for the following are most common:

  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Eggs

What does an allergic reaction to food look like?

The symptoms are slightly different for every child, with reactions ranging from quite mild, to very severe, depending on the severity. It’s your responsibility to keep an eye on your campers, and look for warning signs of a reaction.

Mild symptoms:

  • A few hives; mild itch
  • Mild nausea or discomfort
  • Itchy, runny nose; sneezing
  • An itchy mouth

More moderate symptoms:

  • Hives, rash, itching
  • Tingling or itching of the mouth
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Redness or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, ears, throat or other parts of the body
  • Trouble breathing (wheezing, gasping, or nasal congestion)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

Severe symptoms:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thready” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom” (a feeling that something bad will happen)


Tell me about anaphylaxis

If there’s one thing to take away from this piece, it’s being able to recognize anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction to an allergen. This typically occurs within minutes (or seconds) of exposure to an allergy and warrants the use of an Epi-pen. 

If there’s risk of anaphylaxis, you’ll hear it from a parent. But being able to recognize a severe reaction and move quickly will fall into your hands, as well as counselors. 

Treatment plans for reactions

Planning for reactions should be rooted in an understanding of mild and severe allergic reactions. In general, all reactions can be unpredictable. Something that looks minor can spin into something more severe.

If you’re dealing with a mild reaction, like hives or discomfort, you can administer an antihistamine. If it’s a severe reaction, featuring the symptoms mentioned above, you should use the Epi-Pen you have for these situations. And, in the rare case of anaphylaxis, call 911 and administer the Epi-Pen. There’s nothing wrong with being overly cautious when it comes to the health and safety of your campers.

Working together to prevent a reaction

You can work towards preventing a reaction by having parents fill out a Food Allergy Action Plan (FAAP) — available for download at 

For each food a camper is allergic to, parents should fill out one form. This form will highlight to you what campers symptoms might be, and the medications they need for treatment. Review all of these forms before camp, and work with parents, campers, and staff to identify any risks that might come up. Have a clear plan for where all medications will be stored, and make sure all stakeholders are aware.

Summer camp is going to be filled with fun!

We know that an article like this might create more anxiety than relief — but it’s important to be prepared. By following steps and making a plan of action with your staff, campers, and parents, allergic reactions won’t be an issue at your camp! Review our guide on camp counselor training to make sure your staff is aware of the measures needed to keep your campers safe. Once you lock in your allergy plan, don't forget to put into place the tools to run a smooth ship! Sawyer will help you run and manage your camp registration.

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