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 and has become very popular in the North American diet and around the world. Along with its ever-growing popularity has come an increased prevalence of kiwi allergy. In fact, this 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 can 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 are two types of allergic reactions to kiwis:

  • A standard type of food allergy can involve abdominal symptoms, rash, and difficulty breathing.
  • Oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also called pollen-food allergy syndrome (PFAS) is a condition in which the body mistakes certain foods for pollen and produces 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

Kiwis are rich in:

Triggers and Cross-Reactions

Researchers have identified 13 different allergens (allergy-causing substances) in the kiwi. If you are prone to this reaction, your body mistakes an allergen for a dangerous substance and launches an attack any time it identifies that substance from any source. This results in allergy symptoms.

Because it has so many possible allergy-inducing 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.

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. The substance is harvested for use in products such as surgical gloves and condoms. Latex and kiwi share at least two allergens.

Symptoms

Your symptoms depend on the type of kiwi allergy you have.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

If your kiwi sensitivity is classified as OAS, 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, a life-threatening reaction that involves an inability to breathe, can occur. Anaphylaxis is more likely in people with OAS that includes nuts. This reaction is always a medical emergency.

Your OAS 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.

True Kiwi Food Allergy

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

Kiwis and Asthma Symptoms

Sudies show that if you aren't allergic to them, eating kiwis may lessen respiratory symptoms associated with asthma, wheezing, and bronchitis.

Avoidance

The best way to manage either OAS 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.

Sometimes cooking or briefly heating a 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.

Emergency Treatment

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.

Treating Mild Reactions

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 also lessen your OAS or food allergy symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you test for kiwi allergy in infants?

Percutaneous tests are the most common way to identify a kiwi or other food allergy. Your doctor would do this test by applying a diluted allergen by a prick in the top layer of skin. It is considered a safe test with minimal discomfort. The percutaneous test is rarely performed on infants younger than 6 months old, otherwise, there is no age limit.

How fast does a kiwi allergy kick in?

Your allergy type can determine how quickly you develop symptoms.

  • Oral allergy syndrome typically is an immediate response.
  • A true food allergy reaction may happen within seconds or minutes, or it may not kick in for several hours.

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 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 kiwi allergies were found to affect about 1.8% of the population in a different region. 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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