What You Need to Know About Kiwi Allergies

A reaction you should take seriously

Kiwi

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The kiwi, also known as a Chinese gooseberry or kiwifruit, originated in China but has become very popular within the North American diet and around the world. Along with its ever-growing popularity has come an increased prevalence of kiwi allergy. In fact, the prickly, brown-skinned fruit is becoming one of the most common food allergies worldwide.

Studies of those with kiwi allergies show that children are more likely than adults to show severe symptoms. Additionally, after an initial reaction, subsequent reactions appear to become more severe. For this reason, it is very important not to ignore any reaction you might experience after eating a kiwi.

Types of Kiwi Allergies

There seem to be two types of allergic reactions to kiwis: the standard type of food allergy that can involve abdominal symptoms, rash, and difficulty breathing, or what's called oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or pollen-food allergy syndrome (PFAS). In OAS, the body mistakes certain foods for pollen and experiences a mild allergic reaction to them.

It's possible that your food allergy may last for the rest of your life, but some people—especially children—outgrow them.

Kiwi Nutrition Facts

Triggers and Cross-Reactions

Researchers have identified 13 different allergens (allergy-causing substances) in the kiwi. Because it has so many possibly problematic components and each one may be found in other plants, having a kiwi allergy may mean you're allergic to other things, too.

This is called a cross-reaction. Essentially, your body has determined that a particular substance is dangerous, so it will launch an attack any time it identifies that substance from any source. This results in allergy symptoms. Foods and other plant parts that cross-react with kiwi allergens include:

  • Apple
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Birch pollen
  • Grass pollen
  • Hazelnuts and other tree nuts
  • Latex
  • Melon
  • Peanuts
  • Poppy seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Ragweed
  • Sesame seeds
  • Wheat

Studies show that in geographic regions that have more birch pollen and therefore more birch-pollen allergies, there's a greater incidence of kiwi allergies.

You may not realize that latex is actually a natural product, but it's produced by the rubber tree and similar plants, then harvested for use in products such as surgical gloves and condoms. Latex and kiwi share at least two allergens.

Symptoms

If your kiwi sensitivity is classified as oral allergy syndrome, the symptoms are usually mild and limited to the mouth and throat. OAS symptoms can include:

  • Rapid onset of itching or tingling in the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Swelling in the mouth and throat
  • Symptoms that only last for a few minutes
  • Rarely, anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and involves an inability to breathe. It's always a medical emergency. Anaphylaxis is more likely in people with OAS that includes nuts.

Your symptoms may be at their worst when pollen counts are high, so you may notice an increase in food-related symptoms at times when your other allergens are peaking.

For those with a true kiwi allergy, the symptoms can be much more severe and may include:

Kiwis and Asthma Symptoms

Paradoxically, studies show that—in people who aren't allergic to them—eating kiwis may lessen respiratory symptoms associated with asthma, wheezing, and bronchitis.

Avoidance

The best way to manage oral allergy syndrome or a true kiwi allergy is to avoid kiwi and anything you cross-react to. Kiwi is used in a lot of products, so whenever possible, it's important to check ingredient labels. In restaurants, you should tell your server about your food allergies.

Usually, OAS doesn't need treatment because it clears up quickly on its own. However, if it doesn't, or if you have a true kiwi allergy, you may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (like an EpiPen) to stave off anaphylaxis.

For less extreme reactions, allergy medicines (antihistamines) like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may help. Typically, doctors don't recommend taking an antihistamine regularly to prevent OAS symptoms, but these drugs can be taken once you realize you've eaten a problem food. If you take a daily antihistamine to control seasonal or environmental allergies, it may lessen your OAS and food allergy symptoms, as well.

Cooking, or even briefly heating, the problem food can lessen or destroy the specific chemicals that trigger your OAS symptoms, so you may want to try microwaving kiwi for a few seconds to see if you can tolerate it better that way.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you test for kiwi allergy in infants?

Skin tests are the most common way to identify a kiwi or other food allergy in infants. If your baby is under 6 months old, an intradermal test is more common. It involves injecting a watered-down allergen into the skin. In children older than 6 months, both intradermal or percutaneous tests—in which the allergen is applied by pricking the top layer of skin—are common.

How fast does a kiwi allergy kick in?

How quickly your kiwi allergy reacts depends on a few factors. Oral allergy syndrome typically is an immediate response. However, for a true food allergy, the reaction may happen within seconds or minutes, or it may not kick in for several hours, especially if the reaction comes after eating the food.

How do you cook kiwi to remove food allergy?

Heat can alter the allergens in kiwi so they no longer trigger allergy symptoms. You can cook kiwi by steaming it or by microwaving it for a short amount of time.

How common is kiwi allergy?

The prevalence of kiwi allergy varies significantly by location, with substantially higher rates in areas that also have a lot of birch pollen. One study put the prevalence in children at 9%, while one in a different region found kiwi allergies in about 1.8% of the population. Among children who are already diagnosed with allergies to other fruits or vegetables, studies have found anywhere from 9% to 60% are allergic to kiwi.

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