Allergic Reactions at the Campground

If you have allergies, you may need to take extra precautions while camping, as many outdoor activities can worsen allergy symptoms. You can develop respiratory symptoms or skin reactions from hiking, swimming, and just sitting around the campfire.

Mold allergies can act up when you are exposed to outdoor mold, and insect allergies, like fire ant allergies, can cause a reaction too. Learn about the different types of allergies that can be exacerbated when camping and how to prevent them.

Family with a tent camping near a lake
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Mosquito Allergy

While just an annoyance for most people, some people can experience allergic reactions as a result of mosquito bites.

Allergic reactions to mosquitos commonly include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Itching

Rare reactions may include full body hives, trouble breathing, and even anaphylaxis.

You can wear long-sleeved shirts and pants or use mosquito-repellant to avoid mosquito bites. If you tend to develop allergies, you can talk to your healthcare provider about and taking an antihistamine before exposure to help reduce symptoms of your mosquito allergy.

Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, and Poison Sumac

Plants from the Toxicodendron family—poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac—are a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis.

Coming into contact with these plants results in the deposition of oils from the leaves onto the skin, which can cause an itchy rash consisting of a linear, or streak-like group of blisters or bumps.

The best prevention is to learn how to recognize and avoid these plants. If you come into contact, you should wash the exposed area of your skin with soap and water immediately, as well as any fabrics that might have come into contact with the oils.

And if the rash still occurs, treating the area with topical corticosteroid creams can help alleviate it.

Allergic Rashes From Swimming

Swimming in a freshwater lake or in the ocean can lead to itchy rashes, often a few hours after water exposure.

  • Swimmer's itch: This can develop after swimming in water that's contaminated with parasites. Generally, swimmer's itch occurs in freshwater, where aquatic birds and snails are likely to live. These animals serve as carriers for the parasite, although when this parasite enters human skin, it causes an irritating allergic rash as it dies. Treatment includes topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines.
  • Sea bather's eruption: This allergic rash often occurs after swimming in the ocean and being exposed to jellyfish larvae. These larvae get trapped between a person's skin and bathing suit, resulting in an itchy skin rash on areas covered by clothing. These symptoms usually start while the person is still swimming, but may also occur hours later. Rubbing the skin often makes the symptoms worse, since the larvae release toxins into the skin as a result of pressure or friction. Treatment includes topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines.

Sunscreen Allergies

Sunscreen can protect you from skin damage and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Allergic reactions to sunscreen are due to contact dermatitis, which occurs on the skin within hours of sunscreen application. This reaction can occur anywhere the substance is applied to the body.

In some cases, the combination of UV light and chemical exposure can cause allergic contact dermatitis that is worse in parts of the body with more sun exposure.

Prevention includes using a type of sunscreen that doesn't cause you to have a skin reaction, or using a hypoallergenic barrier sunblock (such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). Topical corticosteroid creams are useful for treating a rash caused by sunscreen allergy.

Barbeque Allergy

Wood, such as mesquite, oak, cedar, and hickory can add flavor to barbequed food. Wood is obtained from trees that produce pollen to which many people with seasonal allergies are allergic. The allergen in the pollen also is present in the wood of the tree; these allergens survive combustion and remain in smoke once the wood is burned. Therefore, it is possible to be allergic to the smoke, and to any food barbequed with the smoke.

If you have this problem, you can try to avoid direct smoke exposure or cook food over a fuel source, such as propane or butane.

Allergies to Insect Stings

Allergic reactions to insect stings from yellowjackets and wasps can be extremely dangerous.

You can reduce the chances of insect stings by:

  • Not looking or smelling like a flower
  • Avoiding walking barefoot (especially through grass or clover)
  • Not drinking from open cans of soda or other sweet beverages (yellow jackets love to crawl into these cans)
  • Cleaning up trash and leftover food as soon as possible after eating

Treat local reactions with ice packs and oral antihistamines; severe allergic reactions require the use of injectable epinephrine and immediate medical care.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Seda J, Horrall S. Mosquito Bites. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. 

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Poisonous plants.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cercarial Dermatitis (Swimmer's Itch).

  4. Heurung AR, Raju SI, Warshaw EM. Adverse reactions to sunscreen agents: epidemiology, responsible irritants and allergens, clinical characteristics, and management. Dermatitis. 2014;25(6):289-326. doi: 10.1097/DER.0000000000000079

  5. Kashyap RR, Kashyap RS. Oral allergy syndrome: an update for stomatologists. J Allergy (Cairo). 2015;2015:543928. doi: 10.1155/2015/543928

  6. Przybilla B, Ruëff F. Insect stings: clinical features and management. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2012;109(13):238-48. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2012.0238

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.