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You’re Allergic to the Modern World

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It is allergy season once again. If you are one of the 81 million Americans with hay fever, spring is a mixed blessing. Yes, the days are longer, but they are accompanied by itchy eyes, runny noses, and an endless hunt for antihistamines. On days when the pollen count is highest, seasonal allergies are like an assault—from the outside world, but also from our own bodies’ immune systems going into overdrive.

There are growing numbers of allergy sufferers, too. In 1997, around 0.4 percent of US children were reported to have a peanut allergy. By 2008 the figure was 1.4 percent. In the UK, hospital admissions due to severe food allergies tripled between 1998 and 2018. And although rates of asthma—often triggered by allergies—have leveled off in the US, they are continuing to rise globally thanks to increased rates in the developing world. We’re also seeing a rise in unusual allergies, such as alpha-gal syndrome, where some people bitten by lone star ticks develop strong reactions to red meat.

Looking at the rise in allergies, it’s hard to shake the feeling that…

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