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Health

The new drugs preventing allergic reactions to peanuts and other foods

Incredible results from trials of several new medications show they can prevent potentially deadly reactions to foods like peanuts, eggs and dairy - and may one day treat asthma

By Graham Lawton

1 May 2024

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Ruby Fresson

My youngest son has been allergic to peanuts and sesame since he was a toddler. Though he has never had a life-threatening reaction, the risk of one hangs over him constantly. He can’t eat out in most restaurants or travel to many parts of the world. Grocery shopping is an ordeal. He has his own place now, and I live in constant anxiety. We always hoped he would grow out of his allergies. At 21, he almost certainly won’t.

He is in an increasingly crowded boat. For reasons that aren’t well understood, food allergies have grown explosively in the 21st century. Peanuts are a common trigger, as are wheat, cow’s milk, egg, soya, other nuts, fish and shellfish. Beyond the “big eight” lies a long tail of allergies to other foods, including many fruits, vegetables and seeds. Some people are allergic to beer, others to cannabis. If humans consume it, chances are somebody, somewhere, is allergic to it.

This rise has translated into an increased burden on healthcare and a reduced quality of life for many, as they strive to avoid a potentially fatal reaction. Until recently, there was only one way to avert this outcome: don’t eat the trigger food. That is easier said than done, however, with unexpected ingredients incorporated into processed foods and labelling often ambiguous or inaccurate.

But now, finally, there is hope on the horizon, with the arrival of several new therapies that can help people avoid an allergic reaction, not just to food, but other kinds of triggers…

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