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Summer and Day Camp Safety Matters – Recognizing and Responding to Allergic Reactions

Recognizing and Responding to Allergic Reactions


Nearly 50 million people across the United States have an allergy of some kind, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. As such, allergic reactions are a significant threat at any summer or day camp.

While some reactions are accompanied by minor symptoms, others can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s critical for camp counselors like you to understand how to properly recognize and respond to allergic reactions in campers. Keep reading to learn more about common types of allergies, their associated symptoms and appropriate response measures.

Common Types of Allergies

Typically, individuals’ immune systems defend against viruses and bacteria by detecting these foreign elements, creating antibodies and neutralizing such threats. However, those with allergies have immune systems that falsely identify harmless substances as threats and generate unnecessary antibodies to fight against them, resulting in various reactions.

There are many different types of substances (also called allergens) that can trigger allergic reactions. Here are some of the most common:

  • Food—Some individuals have trouble digesting the proteins found within certain foods (e.g., tree nuts, wheat, soy, eggs, dairy and fish), thus resulting in allergic reactions.
  • Insects—Mild pain, swelling and redness following an insect bite or sting are expected. Yet, some individuals may experience more severe symptoms due to their allergies.
  • Environmental substances—Multiple elements of nature (e.g., trees, grass, pollen and weeds) can irritate some individuals’ skin and respiratory systems, causing allergic reactions.
  • Drugs—Some individuals may experience allergy symptoms after ingesting specific prescription or over-the-counter medications (e.g., penicillin and antibiotics).

Symptoms of Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can range in severity. Minor symptoms usually only affect one part of the body, and may include:

  • Sneezing and nasal congestion
  • Itchy nose and mouth
  • Mild hives, swelling and redness
  • Nausea

On the other hand, severe symptoms often impact several areas of the body, and may entail the following:

  • Dizziness and shortness of breath
  • Significant swelling and widespread hives
  • Repetitive vomiting and diarrhea
  • Tightness in the throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Wheezing and coughing

If left untreated, severe symptoms could lead to anaphylaxis—a state of shock that can quickly prove fatal.

Allergic Reaction Response Measures

Different types of allergic reactions will warrant varying responses. If a camper displays minor symptoms, take these steps:

  • Wash the affected body part (as well as any contaminated items, clothing or shared surfaces) with soap and water. In the event of an insect sting, carefully remove the stinger from the camper’s skin.
  • Provide an ice pack to help minimize swelling and redness.
  • Offer antihistamines and over-the-counter pain relievers to treat itching, hives and discomfort.
  • Encourage the camper (and their parents or guardians) to follow up with a medical professional.

If a camper displays severe symptoms, take these steps immediately:

  • Follow all documented workplace emergency response policies and procedures.
  • Treat the camper with epinephrine (as long as you have been properly trained and cleared to do so) to help prevent anaphylaxis.
  • Call 911. Explain the situation to the dispatcher and tell them that you have already treated the camper epinephrine, if applicable. If you were unable to provide the camper with epinephrine, request an ambulance with the medication on board. Follow any further first-aid instructions from the dispatcher until medical personnel arrives.
  • Contact the camper’s parents or guardians after they have been taken by the ambulance to inform them of the situation.
  • Follow up with the camper and their parents or guardians to ensure they received sufficient treatment and discuss next steps to minimize allergy triggers and prevent future reactions at camp.


Allergic reactions are a constant risk at any summer or day camp. Knowing how to identify and respond to these reactions can make all the difference in keeping campers safe and avoiding life-threatening situations.


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This Safety Matters flyer is for general informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical or legal advice. 

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