Asthma Camps for Children with Asthma

For many children, summer camp is the highlight of the summer. They meet new friends and experience the great outdoors. They make lifelong memories. But for some campers with asthma, the idea of going to summer camp can be scary. Asthma is a serious health issue and requires constant monitoring.

That’s where asthma camps come in!

Kids laying in the grass smiling at the camera.

What do you do at asthma camp?

It’s a mix of asthma education and fun. Campers learn about asthma from healthcare professionals and develop asthma management skills. For example, campers may learn:

  • How to use an inhaler correctly

  • How to avoid asthma attacks

  • How to recognize and avoid asthma triggers

But the asthma camp experience is more than just learning to manage asthma. It is also an opportunity for kids to be kids – go hiking, swimming, canoeing, climbing on a high ropes course, or dive down a Slip ‘n’ Slide – without the constant worry of asthma getting in the way.

This is all done while in a medically safe environment, with support not only from staff but also peers.

Benefits of asthma camp

Asthma camp helps children learn to better control their asthma. Research shows children who attend an asthma camp have better asthma control for at least a year after camp:

  • They are more likely to use daily preventive asthma medication.
  • They are less likely to miss school.
  • They are less likely to go to the emergency department or be hospitalized due to asthma.

At asthma camp, children learn to become more independent as they develop asthma self-management skills. These are skills children keep with them for life. And they meet other kids, who have asthma, just like them.

Kids playing tug of war, on a beautiful day at asthma camp.

Are asthma camps safe?

Unlike traditional camps, asthma camps are run by healthcare professionals. Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists are typically on hand daily, along with specially trained camp counselors. This gives parents peace of mind knowing their child is in good hands.

At asthma camp, your child will be monitored daily for asthma symptoms. The healthcare team will make sure your child is taking daily medications and using a quick-relief inhaler when needed.

Camp staff will understand how to identify symptoms and potential risks. They will know what to do in case of an emergency.

Who can attend asthma camp?

Some camps are for children with mild or well-controlled asthma. Others are for children with severe asthma. These are kids who may be struggling to manage their disease. They may need extra asthma education and medical support while at camp.

Most asthma camps are overnight camps. They are typically for elementary school-aged children, adolescents and teens. The camps may offer specific camp dates for certain age groups. Make sure to review the camp rules and guidelines before you register your child. You may want to alert your child’s doctor or healthcare team in case of an emergency during camp.

Is there financial assistance for asthma camp?

Some summer camps can be expensive. The good news is that many asthma camps are free to attend. They may be subsidized by a local health department or nonprofit group.

Asthma camps that are not free may offer financial assistance to people who qualify. If cost is a concern, ask the camp director about financial assistance options.

Do asthma camps consider food allergies?

Plenty of children with asthma also have food allergies. Asthma camps should take this into account for meal planning, especially if it’s an overnight camp. You may find some camps are nut-free, for example.

All camps should ask you and your child about any allergies to foods when registering. Many will also allow parents to pack or send special allergy-safe snacks.

Notify the camp director if your child has food allergies. Ask about the menu during mealtimes. You may want to pack some allergen-safe snacks. Make sure epinephrine is readily available in case of a severe allergic reaction.

How do I find an asthma camp?

To find an asthma camp in your area, you can start by searching online for local camps, including YMCA camps. You may also want to contact your local or state recreational services or health department. Keep in mind that many camps may not post registration information until spring.

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Kids a asthma camp in a huddle outside in the fresh air.

Can I send my child to a regular summer camp instead of an asthma camp?

Of course! When asthma is well-controlled, a person with asthma should be able to do anything a person without asthma can do.

It all starts with finding the camp that is right for your child. You don’t need to assume that your child’s options are limited due to asthma. If your child wants to attend a camp that is not health-related, or if they have specific interests such as music or sports, there’s likely a suitable summer camp out there.

No matter which camp you choose, do plenty of homework beforehand. Talk with your child’s doctor about the camp. Be sure the camp staff is aware of your child’s unique needs. Confirm that all staff members (not just the lead counselor or nurse) are capable of handling health concerns.

What about smoke from a campfire or fireworks?

Smoke is a common asthma trigger. Most asthma camps will likely not have a campfire on the evening schedule. But what if your child attends a regular camp that includes nightly campfires?

Doctors recommend children with asthma keep their distance from campfires. The same goes for fireworks and firework smoke.

What if your child wants to join friends at the campfire? Your child should wear a face mask with an N-95 filter to help keep smoke out of the lungs. Pack several face masks if it’s an overnight camp. Tell your child to discard a face mask if it gets dirty or wet.

Five kids on a hill jumping into the air with a sunny blue sky in the background.

Tips for Preparing for Camp

Whether it’s your first time or 10th time sending your child to camp, it is best to plan ahead weeks before camp opens. Communication is key. Take time now to prepare, then feel confident that you, your child and the camp staff are all on the same page. Work together to make this year’s summer camp a safe and fun experience for your child.

Here are some tips:

Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor.

  • Before camp, meet with your child’s doctor to review your child’s asthma symptom history and treatment plan. Ask for advice about managing symptoms in a camp environment. Revise the Asthma Action Plan if needed and give a copy to camp staff.
  • Discuss your child’s self-management skills and how to strengthen them, if necessary, before they leave home.
  • Check that all medications are up to date. Renew prescriptions as needed. Make sure your child’s asthma medication supply goes through the end of summer. Consider sending the inhaler that your child keeps or carries when at school.

Check on what medications to bring.

  • Talk with your child’s doctor and the camp director about what medications to bring. Some camps may have access to a pharmacy on site.
  • Make sure to pack both a quick-relief inhaler and daily asthma controller medication as prescribed.
  • Keep medications in the original pharmacy container and clearly marked. It should your child’s name and birth date, the pharmacy phone number, name of medication, and dosage. Store the medications in a waterproof container, clearly marked with your child’s name.

Check on medication availability at camp.

  • Talk to the camp about how to ensure your child’s quick-relief inhaler is always available. (If your child is at risk for a severe allergic reaction, confirm the same for epinephrine.) Find out if the medication is carried by the child or a camp counselor, or if it’s kept at a clinic.
  • Confirm that your child’s emergency medications will be stored properly. This includes during camp outings such as water sports. The camp should have a way to keep the medications available but safe from the elements. Medications should be kept out of heat. They should be sealed in a Ziplock bag if there is a chance they could get wet.
  • Send along backup medication to keep with the camp’s medical personnel just in case.

Additional tips for a safe camp experience

  • Use the supply or packing list the camp provides (just like school).
  • Send a list of all emergency contacts, including healthcare professionals. This can include the primary care doctor, allergist or pulmonologist, or respiratory therapist. The emergency contacts may already be part of camp registration but a hard copy should also be on hand for quick reference.
  • Be aware of summer asthma triggers, including pollen and poor air quality.
  • If your child is receiving allergy shots, plan for your child to receive the weekly dose prior to camp. Allergy shots are typically not administered at asthma camp.
  • If your child has a severe allergy to insect stings and venom, inform the camp staff prior to camp. The staff should take precautions to avoid exposure to insects when possible. Make sure epinephrine is available in case of an emergency.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions to the camp director and staff.
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What's the spring allergy outlook where you live? Will sudden temperature changes trigger an asthma flare? Weather can play a key role in allergy and asthma symptoms, as well as flu transmission. Allergy & Asthma Network partnered with Weather Trends International to provide forecasting and analysis for people with asthma and allergies. It compiles information about an area's temperature, anticipated pollen forecast, flu prevalence, and more in determining its forecast.

Reviewed by:

Ruthie Marker, MSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, LSSYB is a respiratory therapist with more than 13 years of experience working in adult critical care, neonatal care, and patient education. She joined Allergy & Asthma Network to support the Not One More Life coaching program as a Spanish-speaking Asthma Coach. Ruthie has worked as a respiratory therapist in Texas all of her career and has supported COVID-19 efforts in Maryland and Arkansas.