Adventurous, Outdoorsy, and Allergic

Spending a day out in nature can seem intimidating if your child has a potentially life-threatening (severe) allergy to bee stings, tree nuts, or even other foods. Experiencing a severe reaction in the outdoors may be more difficult to deal with, but the proper precautions can make outdoor adventures manageable for children with severe allergies, says Andrew S. Kim, M.D., an allergist at the Allergy & Asthma Center of Fairfax in Virginia. With a little prep work, even a weeklong camping trip can be doable:

1. Pack your own food. Double-check all nutrition and ingredient labels before heading out, and make it clear to your child that she should not accept items from any fellow campers. “The mindset that others should have safe food options for our children isn’t realistic,” says Melanie of O’Fallon, Ill., mother of Cooper. “It’s our job as parents to always prepare for our child.”

2. Check out the environment. If your child is severely allergic to tree nuts, research (and, if possible, survey) the area ahead of time to ensure he or she won’t come in contact with nut-producing trees. Wondering about all those acorns and pinecones littering the forest floor? Acorns are tree nuts, however they may not cause severe allergic reactions in most people with tree nut allergies. Pinecones are not tree nuts, however, they may come in contact with pine nuts produced by pine trees. Consult your doctor for guidance.

3. Keep epinephrine on hand. Keep your child’s epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs) nearby at all times, including on short hikes from your campsite. It’s also a smart idea to have your child wear a medical alert bracelet. “We go outdoors for a lot of picnics and always take Ruby’s EAIs with us,” says Joree W. of New York City, whose 5-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, and mustard. Remember to store the EAIs properly according to package directions.

4. Have an emergency plan. Before heading out, make sure that you have an up-to-date anaphylaxis action plan and emergency numbers written down, advises Kim. You should also carry the phone number and address of the closest hospital with you. “When we go out to playgrounds or long nature trails, we make a point never to be too far from an emergency room,” says Melanie.

Disclaimer: The experiences, opinions, and suggestions recounted in this article are not intended as medical advice. They are unique to the family depicted and do not necessarily represent the “typical” experience of families with a child who has severe allergies. Families should talk to their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of severe allergies.