June 20th, 2024
5 min read

When Your Kids Bring Home Summer Camp Sickness

With summer break here, many kids are excited about the summer camps they’ll be in over the next few weeks. Whether it’s overnight camps or day-camps, it’s likely that your little camper will be spending time in the great outdoors. While nobody can argue that fresh air is a good thing, it does increase your child’s likelihood of picking up a camp-related illness. Here are some things to keep a look out for when your camper returns home. 

Water-Related Illness: From swimming pools to lakes, summer camp and swimming go hand-in-hand. The most common water related illnesses are: 

  • Pink eye - Besides the telltale red or pink color that gives pink eye its name, eye discomfort is a common symptom. Kids might say that it feels like there's sand in the eye. Often, there's some discharge from the eye, and pain and swelling of the conjunctiva. Some kids have swollen eyelids or sensitivity to bright light. Pinkeye caused by bacteria is easily treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. 

  • Simmers ear – Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal, the passage that carries sounds from the outside of the body to the eardrum. Ear pain is the main sign of swimmer's ear. A healthcare provider can prescribe ear drops with antibiotics that will often clear up the infection in 7 to 10 days.  

  • Recreational water illness (RWI) – Recreational water illness is caused by germs and chemicals found in the water we swim or play in, including swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, splash pads, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Diarrhea is the most common recreational water illness. People who are already sick with diarrhea can spread it to others when they get in recreational water. Some RWIs can be treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications. Others will go away on their own and only need symptom management for comfort or to prevent dehydration.  

Infected Bug Bites: It’s not uncommon for campers to return with bug bites, which will typically clear up in a few days. You can apply bug bite or antihistamine lotion to the site to help with inching.  If your child has puss in or around the bite, swollen glands, or increased swelling, pain, or redness around the bite, it may be infected, and antibiotics may be required. 


Poison Ivy/Rashes: While most parents know “leaves of three, let it be” it can sometimes be hard to spot, especially for children. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all result in an itchy, red rash. Within 2-3 days, small blisters may begin to form. It’s important to wash all clothing after a child returns from camp as the oils may still remain. Once contact is made, you’ll want to gently wash your child's skin and scrub under fingernails right away with soap and cool water. Bathing your child in water with colloidal oatmeal and applying cool, wet cloths compresses can help provide your relief from the irritation. Most rashes will clear up on their own, but should you notice puss on the rash or yellow scabs or you child temperature rises above 100, it’s time to see a healthcare provider.  


Head Lice: Did you camper come home with and itchy head? Sesame seed-sized white specks on the scalp, often behind ears and at the base of the neck, are one key sign of lice. The eggs can often be found one-quarter of an inch down the hair shaft. 

Once detected there are many treatment options you can find at your local drug store, as well as some home remedies including tree oil, mayonnaise, and olive oil. Fortunately, there aren’t any serious medical consequences with head lice, and they don’t spread disease. However, it’s important to know that constant scratching can open the skin and lead to a secondary infection. 

Ticks: Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of an infected blacklegged (deer) tick. If the infected tick is attached to a person for 36-48 hours, Lyme disease can be transmitted. 

Make sure to check children’s clothing and belongings for ticks upon returning home. If a tick is lodged, use tweezers to remove the tick by squeezing it near the head. If unable to remove the entire tick, seek medical attention. 

Bedbugs: Bedbugs are spread through contact with bedding, clothing and luggage that contains the bug. Bedbug bites are small, itchy, red bumps that can sometimes form in a straight line on the body. Inspect your child for bites and their belongings for dark excrement spots on fabric, tiny white eggs, and skin shedding from nymphs. If bedbugs are present, call an exterminator. 

If you’re unsure about the severity of your child’s illness, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional to determine if further care is needed. 

For most kids, the extent of summer camp sickness is a small price to pay for the fun times, great friends, and silly stories that come out of summer camp.  

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