Ready for summer camp? Camp nurses and doctors of optometry offer their tips for safe fun

June 19, 2018
About 14 million children and adults attend camps annually in the U.S. What can parents do to help keep their campers happy? Camp nurses and doctors of optometry advise.
Summer camps

You know that checklist of items your camper will need this summer, with everything from bug spray to shower shoes? While you're packing towels and toothpaste, you might want to consider these tips compiled by experts on caring for kids and summer.

To help prepare your child for all that summer camps offer, the AOA and the Association of Camp Nursing (ACN) have teamed up to compile a list of essential summer safety tips for your youngsters before they head off for their nature experience and community building. About 14 million children and adults attend camps—from day to residential camps—annually in the U.S.

The AOA is the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for the nation's eye health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometric professionals and optometry students.

"We're pleased to team up with the AOA," says Tracey Gaslin, Ph.D., APRN, executive director of the Kentucky-based ACN, whose 600 members include nurses, camp directors, camp leaders and others who have an interest in quality camp health services. "The goal of camp is to provide kids with a fun environment for them to grow socially, emotionally and mentally. Camp nurses want to do everything they can to make sure no child is put at risk for injury, so they can enjoy the camp experience.

"Toward that end, we try to put all kinds of education—including information on eye safety—in front of camp nurses," says Gaslin, who called camp nurses "jacks of all trades" as they contend with cuts to conjunctivitis. "A lot goes into the camping experience."

Being prepared will help to ensure the fun, says Douglas Melzer, O.D., who practices in Portland, Oregon, where he is an outdoor enthusiast himself.

"Few things can ruin a summer camp faster than breaking or losing your only pair of glasses or contact lenses," Dr. Melzer says.

What can parents do to help keep their campers happy? Camp nurses and doctors of optometry advise:

Set up checkups before sending kids to camp

Parents should follow general health checkup procedures (such as visiting your child's health care practitioner for an annual appointment) to make sure your camper is in good health before their adventure begins. That would include a regular, comprehensive eye exam. Find a doctor of optometry near you via the AOA doctor locator at and schedule a visit.

Encourage your camper to eat healthy

Before they leave, make sure your camper is eating healthy and encourage them to make the same choices at camp. Nourishing foods—not junk food, fast foods or highly processed foods—will provide them more energy for camp activities. Nutritious fruits and vegetables also improve eye health and provide vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.

Do a quick mental health check

The school year can be mentally and emotionally taxing, so make sure your child feels like camp is a "break" from that routine. Before camp, be on the lookout for any changes in habits, decreased social and academic functioning and increased physical complaint, then seek professional counseling.

Make a safe splash

If your kid is a first-time swimmer, make sure you sign them up for a few lessons before they hop in the camp pool or find a camp that provides lessons.

Beware the bacteria in the pool

Plan for and encourage campers who wear contact lenses to take along a full supply of contact lenses replacements and solution. Also pack a pair of prescription eyeglasses as a back-up. "Most water sources may seem OK for swimming but the water (in a pool, spa or lake) may carry infectious agents that can lead to illness if consumed or to eye infections if splashed in the eye, especially if the integrity of the tissue is compromised," Dr. Melzer says. "If worn in water activities, contact lenses should be of the daily disposable modality and should be disposed of after the activities to avoid prolonged exposure. Extended-wear contacts are not an option with water-based activities. Better yet, take along swim goggles or, for glasses wearers, corrective swim goggles. Although not available in all corrections, they are readily available in an array of near-sighted or far-sighted powers for a reasonable cost and can help avoid the phone call, 'Mom I lost my glasses in the lake.'"

Beware of smoky eyes at the campfire

Some of the best nights of camp are spent roasting marshmallows over a fire. However, the AOA encourages campers to exercise caution if they're spending an extended amount of time in the smoky haze, which can cause red eye and irritation. Inhaling smoke also can cause inflammation, headaches and more. Walk away from the fire for a while.

Wear the right shoes

The American Camping Association conducted a study that identified falls, slipping and tripping as the "primary mechanism of camper and staff injuries." The association encourages campers to bring closed-toed shoes for engaging in outdoor fun, especially if they're hiking or climbing.

Take along bug spray and sunscreen

Consider the flora and fauna in your area, and use a bug spray with DEET or other natural repellent. To protect from the sun, seek shade and use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Find some shades

A hat will only get you so far. Sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection are important to protect eyes from sun damage. "Sunglasses are not just a fashion statement," Dr. Melzer says. "Proper sunglasses help to protect your eyes from UVA and UVB exposure." And for those soccer, baseball or volleyball games, on-the-field eye protection is as important as off-the-field protection.

Drink the good water

Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water. "Drink, drink, drink H2O," Dr. Melzer says. "The body needs it to survive all that running around."

Click to download the summer camp checklist or click on the image below.

AOA camping checklist

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