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Emerging Treatments for Food Allergies

What’s available now and what may be available in the near future for treating food allergies.

A man in his 30s speaks with a pharmacist while picking up a new prescription medication for food allergies.

Updated on May 21, 2024

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6 percent of adults in the United States report having a food allergy, though some estimates are higher. Some will have developed food allergies as adults, while others will have been living with food allergies since childhood (roughly 6 percent of children in the U.S. also report having a food allergy according to the CDC).

For people of all ages living with food allergies, strict avoidance of trigger foods and being prepared for accidental exposures are still the mainstays of treatment. Being prepared for an accidental exposure involves having an epinephrine autoinjector in case of a life-threatening allergic reaction (people are often advised to carry two autoinjectors) and having a step-by-step emergency plan. People with food allergies are also advised to carry antihistamine medications, which can be used to treat a minor allergic reaction.

However, new treatment options are becoming available. In recent years, several new therapies for food allergies have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Numerous other treatments are in development.

Here is a look at the different types of therapies that are under development—and some that are available already.

Immunotherapies

Immunotherapy refers to any type of therapy that modifies how the immune system responds. It can refer to a wide variety of therapies used to treat a wide variety of conditions—including infections, cancer, inflammatory disorders, autoimmune diseases, and transplant rejection.

In the treatment of food allergies, immunotherapy typically refers to medications that help desensitize the immune system’s response to a trigger food. The goal is to train the immune system to respond less aggressively to a trigger food, to prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions during accidental exposures. (Avoiding trigger foods is still the main form of treatment).

Because of the risk of severe allergic reactions, any immunotherapy medication must be used under the careful guidance of a healthcare provider.

An oral immunotherapy (an immunotherapy taken by mouth) for peanut allergies was approved in 2020. Other immunotherapies for a variety of food allergies are under investigation and development. This includes additional oral immunotherapies, and immunotherapies that are taken as injections, patches, and dissolvable tablets placed under the tongue.

Vaccines and biologic therapies (both discussed on their own below) can also be immunotherapies, but these are often listed in their own categories.

Vaccines

A vaccine is a medicine that stimulates the body’s immune system, to help train the immune system how to respond when it encounters a foreign substance. Most of the vaccines a person receives during their lifetime protect against viruses and bacteria.

Food allergy vaccines that train the immune system to better tolerate trigger foods are also under development. A food allergy vaccine would achieve a similar result to the immunotherapies described above, though the mechanisms are different, and the goal of using vaccines is to provide long-term protection against allergic reactions while requiring fewer doses. No food allergy vaccines are available, but a few peanut allergy vaccines have been tested in clinical trials.

Biologic therapies

Biologic therapies, or biologics, are a type of medication that target a specific part of the immune system, such as a specific type of cell or protein involved in an immune or inflammatory response. Biologic therapies are used to treat several immune-mediated disorders, including asthma and atopic dermatitis (two conditions that coexist with food allergies for many people), as well as psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Multiple biologic therapies are being investigated to treat food allergies, and a food allergy medication that became available in 2024 is a biologic therapy. It works to reduce the severity of the immune response during an accidental exposure and works for multiple food allergies.

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