A Story on Going to Camp with Asthma
My last year at overnight camp was the first year I had asthma. Being on no long-term control medication at that time, I simply carried my rescue inhaler with me and that was it. A couple of years ago, though, I spent a week working at a camp as a one-to-one support worker for a 13-year-old girl. My asthma that week was a lot like the work—challenging at some points, ridiculously easy at others. Being an adult, I arranged with the camp to keep my inhalers with me—all except my rescue inhaler locked in my cabin—my camper had asthma too, and by midway through the week, the nurse let me take her rescue inhaler and spacer in my bag as well (I can only hope that had she not had a developmental disability they would have let her self-carry her medication). I did, however, keep my nebulizer and neb meds in the nurse’s office for the week—which posed bit of a problem one of the two times I needed a treatment, and she was nowhere to be found. I did, however, make great friends with the camp nurse that week—one of the few other paid adults at camp, whom I also commiserated with about the lack of cell service at camp.
As an adult working at camp, I did a few things to make my life easier when I was there—some of these may work for kids with asthma, too. While campers are probably not allowed to keep medicines (aside from rescue inhalers and EpiPens) with them (and these two exceptions should be assured to be available, just like at school), this certainly made my life easier—probably the nurses, too. I wrote the camp medical staff (which was just the one nurse, it turned out), an introduction letter about me and my asthma, so that they were in the loop just in case. This is also why I opted to visit her if I needed neb treatments—more for her sanity. For kids, I’d look into what kind of allergens that they might be exposed to, and if even suspected to be necessary, start them on antihistamines and keep them up for the time they are at camp. If kids aren’t regularly taking a maintenance or controller inhaler—like a combo inhaler or inhaled steroid—consider starting these up before the kid goes to camp. The nurse and I ended up deciding to re-start my camper’s FloVent while she was at camp after she needed her inhaler two nights in a row—had her parents restarted it before she went to camp, she might have been able to avoid the mild asthma issues she experienced while she was at camp. Of course, it helped that I also had asthma and that the nurse agreed with my judgement to restart the FloVent midway through camp.
Aside from allergens, looking at other aspects of camp is important to. Sporadic activity might be something to think on for kids with exercise induced asthma. For others, like my camper, a horse allergy may have caused some of her problems—even though we did not go horseback riding at camp, other campers likely were tracking dander in. For me—and probably her, too—the constant smoke in the air was a significant issue where it came to my asthma. This is something that most camps may not think of when it comes to having campers with asthma—but something that is easily fixed. Alternate activities can be offered during evening campfires, too, if needed. For older kids, ensuring cabin-mates don’t use spray deodorants or perfumes/colognes can be a challenge to deal with—the week I worked at camp, the counsellor asked the girls to put those items on outside the cabin in the morning. Since not a lot of time is spend in the cabin this may be an okay compromise to discuss. For me, it worked well enough.
While more time is spent outdoors, Camp may not be too different in terms of triggers than being at home or school, depending on what kind of allergies or other triggers are experienced. For me, if there hadn’t been a constantly burning fire, I’d have had a smooth sailing week of asthma, but my camper might have had the same struggles she did. By preparing for anything you can, though, and ensuring medical staff know the ins and outs of asthma, campers with asthma should still be able to breathe easy and have a lot of fun—even if they have to work a little harder to manage their asthma in a mainstream camp.