CHIPPEWA VALLEY, Wis. (WEAU)- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says food allergies, like peanuts, have increased nearly 18% in children over the last two decades. An increase local doctors say has been seen across the Chippewa Valley.
Two local families dealing first-hand with peanut allergies, share their stories in the fight to create a more peanut aware community.
Sometimes not everything is visible to the eye, until it's too late.
“My whole body was red as a tomato full of hives, I had white cloths all over me,” explained Adam Waldusky, a high school student at McDonell Area Catholic Schools.
It's a sight that many parents who have children living with a food allergy, like peanuts, never hope to see.
The Waldusky family of Chippewa falls had that experience nearly 9 years ago, when 7-year-old Adam was at a school Halloween party.
“It was probably the worst day of our life,” says his mom, Debi. “We were just sitting there, having lunch and he was enjoying his cookie; and he had never tasted peanut butter before; so he didn't know and I hadn't been eating the cookie.”
Adam says it was a pretty scary experience.
“I never was familiar with the situation, so in the office when I was getting injected with the needle, I didn't know what to expect,” he said.
Doctors say peanut allergies have been slowly increasing over time. Today nearly 3 million people in the U.S. are living with a peanut allergy.
“I think one of the biggest misunderstandings is that it is life-threatening and you can die from a food allergy,” Dr. Adela Taylor said, an Allergist with Mayo Clinic Health System. “Number two: that it can be a very small amount. Some people can tolerate a very small amount and some people can’t; and most people with a food allergy don't know what their threshold level is
And although Dr. Taylor says 20-25% of people can outgrow their peanut allergy, allergic reactions to food are still sending a person to the hospital in America every 3 minutes.
“Until it hits you and you got to deal with it, it doesn't sink in,” Craig Olsen said.
The Olsen family of Altoona says they became peanut experts around the time their daughter Leah was 1-year-old.
“One time she just started throwing up and wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop,” explained Craig, Leah’s father. “I don’t know how long it took; Jane realized she had given her just a little bit of peanut butter, it was just a portion on a piece of bread and that was it and we took her in and got her tested and found out that she was allergic to basically all kinds of nuts.”
Leah says it's an allergy she has control over, but not from the outside.
“If there are kids eating peanuts around me and I’m like scared I’m going to touch it or eat it or something and then get an allergic reaction, because I don't like allergic reactions,” Leah said, a high school student at Altoona High.
“Some of our school buildings, we talk about them being peanut aware, so that we really try to limit any exposure of peanuts,” the Food and Nutrition Director for the Eau Claire Area School District Sue Brown explained. “Can it be 100%? We do our best.”
Those with food allergies say it's not a food that you must stop eating or buying, they just ask for consideration, because in some cases, it is the difference between life and death.
Especially because having to use an epinephrine or EpiPen with a thick needle is never fun.
“Would you rather have a needle go in your leg and survive or not do it and die,” Adam said.
That's why both families agree, the more people aware, the safer they will be.
“You just have to be careful, you don't have to let your allergy restrict you,” Leah said.
Doctors say tips to remember include washing your hands or rinsing your mouth with water if you've been in contact with peanuts and will be around someone with a peanut allergy.
To learn more about being peanut aware or when to introduce peanut butter to your kids click on the extra video.