Grade seven student Katrina Waite of Toronto has been living with her allergy to bee stings since her first birthday. After being stung, she started swelling up and her parents had to rush her to the hospital. Since then, mom Tracy has worked hard with teachers and caregivers to inform them of Katrina’s allergy.
But when it came to a three-day field trip to an outdoor education centre that included beekeeping, Tracy was concerned about her then 11-year-old daughter. “Even though they would be a distance from the bee area, the facility said there was a high risk of contact and the teachers were uncomfortable with that,” recalls Tracy. It would have been Katrina’s first experience away from home and after talking to her teacher with her mom, Katrina made up her own mind to stay home.
This kind of decision-making occurs in many homes with children who are at risk for anaphylaxis, the most severe form of allergic reaction, which can cause the throat to swell quickly. A reaction requires immediate treatment with an epinephrine autoinjector and a trip to the hospital. Food allergy anaphylaxis affects an estimated 1.3 million Canadians, and approximately 100,000 children (two percent) have a peanut allergy.
According to Beatrice Povolo, director of marketing and communications for Anaphylaxis Canada, allergies need not be a barrier to day camps and overnight trips. “But they are definitely an added consideration.” Beatrice’s middle child is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and carries his auto-injector at all times. He began going to day camps at age six and has never had to use his auto-injector. “In general, parents of children with food or insect allergies are used to being more vigilant about their children’s safety around allergens.”
At school, the routine is well established and administrators and teachers are usually receptive to learning how to deal with anaphylaxis. In Ontario, Sabrina’s Law makes it mandatory for public schools to identify all children at-risk, develop a school anaphylaxis policy, and provide auto-injectors and appropriate training for staff. However, going to school, for the most part, is mandatory. Camp isn’t. So to prepare your child for some summer fun, you need to take the same precautions as you would at school, and do your homework in advance, says Beatrice. Find out:
- Are the counsellors trained in using an autoinjector unit and recognizing signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?
- Is there adult supervision, especially during snack and lunch times?
- What is the camp’s protocol for dealing with a medical emergency?
- Where is the nearest hospital?
- Where do the children eat?
- Is proper handwashing and hygiene encouraged?
- Does the camp have an allergy policy?
- Are any field trips planned?
- Where are the garbage cans (where insects usually congregate) and how often are they emptied?
Set up some time with your child’s counsellors to inform them of your child’s allergies and teach them how to use the auto-injector in the event of an emergency. “My son carries one and I make sure there’s a back-up device with the counsellor,” says Beatrice. Encourage your child to tell his friends. “My son’s friends are his best allies,” says Beatrice. “They’re always looking out for him and making sure he’s not eating something that might contain trace amounts of nuts.”
Download the customizable emergency plan from allergysafecommunities.ca and give it to your child’s counsellor and camp supervisor.
Published June 2010