Five Things to Do Before Sending Your Asthmatic Child to Camp

Over 26 million Americans have asthma, and the number is growing every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes more than 6 million children, with roughly 10 percent of all youngsters in the United States suffering from the disease. Parents of asthmatic children may be wary of sending their kids to a sleep-away camp this summer, or even to a day camp. But if asthma is properly treated, parents need not to fret, says Dr. Thomas Murphy, an allergy-asthma subspecialist with Charleston ENT & Allergy.

“So long as the patient is doing well and has asthma that is in good control, and the camp is prepared to do what needs to be done for prevention or to respond to an emergency, there’s no reason the child shouldn’t go,” Dr. Murphy says. “There are a lot of developmental benefits for young people going to camp.”

To make sure your child is safe this summer:

1. Educate your child

“The more information kids get, the better,” Dr. Murphy says. “Ideally every office visit you have the patient there with the family, and you can make informed decisions together.”

Children should understand what asthma is, and should know how to recognize early symptoms of an asthma attack, as well as preventive measures they can take to avoid one. They should also know what medicines they are taking, when to take them, and how to take them properly.

Often very young children may overmedicate themselves because they feel sick frequently, Dr. Murphy says. “Puffing is making them feel better, so they do it a lot. If they’re overusing it, that is one of the signals that their asthma isn’t well controlled.”

2. Educate the camp

Any camp worth considering will at the least ask for a medical background form requesting information about medical conditions and any medicines campers are taking. Some camps even require campers to get a physical and have a doctor sign off on medical clearance. Make sure you write all pertinent information on those forms and talk with camp counselors to make sure they know your expectations.

3. Decide who will keep the inhaler

Whether to entrust children with inhalers or hand them over to camp counselors for safekeeping depends on age and maturity. Some children are responsible and know their bodies well. Others might lose their inhaler, or fail to use it when it’s needed. Nobody knows your child better than you. Use your best judgment in compliance with camp policies.

4. Make sure everyone knows about triggers

Strenuous exercise can trigger wheezing or a full-fledged asthma attack, and camp usually involves swimming, hiking, and other physical activities. Another risk factor is strong odors, which abound in rooms used for arts and crafts with paints and glues. Allergic-induced asthma is common, and a sleep-away camp in a lush, remote area may prompt allergic reactions to tree pollen or dust mites. Camp counselors should be made aware of these risk factors so they can take precautions, such as allowing children frequent rest breaks during physical activities or opening a window to air out strong smells.

5. Research the camp

All camps have strengths and weaknesses. Some are better equipped to deal with asthmatic children than others. Find out how many counselors and administrators have first aid and CPR training. What do they know about the various asthma medications and when to use them? If your child uses a daily maintenance inhaler for prevention, do they have experience with that? How far away is the nearest emergency room? What kinds of activities will be offered, and will any special accommodations be made for asthmatic children engaged in high-risk activities?

In many cities, the American Lung Association sponsors summer camps especially for children with respiratory illnesses. Along with traditional camp pursuits, dedicated asthma camps have an educational component to help kids learn how to manage their disease. Camp counselors include volunteer doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists. Dr. Murphy has volunteered at such camps in the past.

If you’re looking for knowledgeable, compassionate ear, nose and throat doctors to treat asthma, allergies, or any other ENT issue, Charleston ENT & Allergy has 11 locations serving Charleston, Dorchester, Colleton, and Berkeley counties. Request an appointment or a call from Charleston ENT & Allergy by calling 843-766-7103, or visit online at