July 13, 2024 6:53 am
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A new shot can protect children and adults from severe allergic reactions

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Ellen Eldridge, GPB News

A food allergy reaction sends someone to an emergency room about once every three minutes. 

And, until now, medication couldn’t help.

Xolair, the brand name for the drug omalizumab, has been used since 2003 to treat asthma and can now be used to help people with food allergies avoid severe reactions. It’s the first medication approved for children as young as 1 with severe food allergies to foods like peanuts and dairy products.

Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, with wheat, soy, and tree nuts also included. Peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish commonly cause the most severe reactions.

From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18% among children under age 18 years old, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Dr. Brian Vickery, chief of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s and Marcus Professor of Pediatric Immunology at Emory, said 8% of children in the United States have a food allergy.

About 40% of all food allergic patients are allergic not just to one food but to multiple foods.

Vickery, the principal investigator of the Children’s and Emory study site, said 177 people, three of whom were adults, participated in the clinical trial. They were all allergic to peanuts and at least two other foods.

Xolair targets and neutralizes immunoglobulin (IgE) antibodies produced in the blood in response to certain food allergens.

Avoidance strategy is not terribly successful, Vickery said. Accidental reactions to food allergens are extremely common.

Not only is avoiding foods not very effective, it’s also very stressful, he said, to the point of experiencing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Some families miss out on a lot of normal experiences like traveling and birthday parties.

So, while Xolair is not a cure, it offers meaningful protection from these inevitable accidental exposures, he said.

“It allows people to navigate their daily lives in a way that is much safer and more comfortable, and much more like other normal kids do, which confers a huge benefit in terms of quality of life,” Vickery said.

This story comes to Savannah Sun Times through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

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