What You Need to Know About Kiwi Allergies

Kiwi

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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The kiwi, also known as a Chinese gooseberry, has become very popular in the North American diet and around the world. It is also becoming one of the most common food allergies worldwide.

Kiwi allergies can produce mild symptoms at first. They can become more severe over time. For this reason, it is very important not to ignore any reaction you might have after eating a kiwi.

This article describes different types of kiwi allergies, along with their treatments. It also explains when you should seek medical care.

Types of Kiwi Allergies

There are two types of allergic reactions to kiwis:

  • A standard food allergy can involve abdominal symptoms, rash, and breathing problems.
  • Oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also called pollen-food allergy syndrome (PFAS), is a condition where the body mistakes certain foods for pollen. It produces a mild allergic reaction to them as a result.

Children are more likely than adults to show severe symptoms. A food allergy can last a lifetime, but some people—especially kids—outgrow them.

Kiwi Nutrition Facts

Kiwis are rich in:

Kiwi Allergy Triggers and Cross-Reactions

Researchers have found 13 different allergens in kiwi. These are otherwise harmless substances a body can mistake as dangerous, prompting an allergic response.

Because kiwi has so many allergens, 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 there are more kiwi allergies amongst people who live in geographic regions with more birch pollen.

Latex is a natural product. It's produced by the rubber tree and similar plants. It is used in products such as surgical gloves and condoms. Latex and kiwi share at least two allergens.

Recap

Kiwi allergies can cause symptoms that range from very mild to life-threatening. If you have a kiwi allergy, it's likely you'll also react to some other fruits, vegetables, and pollens.

Kiwi Allergy Symptoms

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

Oral Allergy Syndrome

If your kiwi sensitivity is classified as OAS, symptoms are usually mild. They are limited to the mouth and throat.

OAS symptoms can include:

  • Itching or tingling in the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Swelling in the mouth and throat
  • Symptoms that only last for a few minutes

In rare cases, anaphylaxis can occur. It's a life-threatening reaction that involves an inability to breathe. Anaphylaxis is more common in people with OAS that involves nuts. This reaction is always a medical emergency.

Your OAS symptoms may be at their worst when pollen counts are high. You may notice an increase in food-related symptoms when other allergens are peaking.

True Kiwi Food Allergy

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

Kiwis and Asthma Symptoms

Studies show that if you aren't allergic to kiwis, eating them may lessen asthma symptoms such as wheezing and bronchitis.

Complications

Kiwi allergies that start off mild can become worse if you continue to eat the fruit. You might have some mild itching around your mouth when you first try kiwi, but have more significant symptoms if you eat the fruit again.

For some people, an allergic reaction happens right away. For others, allergy symptoms don't kick in until they exercise, drink alcohol, or take medications after eating kiwi.

Recap

Two types of kiwi allergies exist: OAS and true kiwi allergies. OAS causes itching and mild swelling mainly in and around the mouth. A true kiwi allergy can cause nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, fainting, and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. Because kiwi allergies can get worse over time, it's important to see a doctor about them early on.

Treatments for Kiwi Allergy

The best way to manage either OAS or a true kiwi allergy is to avoid kiwi and anything you may cross-react to.

Kiwi is used in a lot of products, so it's important to check ingredient labels. In restaurants, tell your server about your food allergies as well.

Sometimes cooking or heating a problem food can lessen or destroy the chemicals that trigger OAS symptoms. You may want to microwave kiwi for a few seconds to see if you can tolerate it better that way.

Emergency Treatment

Usually, OAS doesn't need treatment. It clears up quickly on its own. 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 mild reactions, antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may help. Doctors don't typically recommend taking an antihistamine regularly to prevent symptoms of kiwi allergy. But you can take one once you realize you've eaten a problematic food.

If you take a daily antihistamine to control seasonal or environmental allergies, it may also lessen your food allergy symptoms.

Foods That Might Contain Kiwi

Reading labels and ingredient lists is the best way to keep from eating kiwi by accident. You may find kiwi in:

  • Tropical or fruit smoothies
  • Frozen fruit blends
  • Fruit Salads
  • Sorbets and fruit-flavored frozen desserts

Some meat producers also use kiwi as a tenderizer or as an additive in pâté products.

Some people with kiwi allergy are also sometimes sensitive to papain, a papaya enzyme also used to tenderize meats.

When to See a Doctor

If you have allergy symptoms after eating kiwi, see a doctor right away. An allergy doctor can help you pinpoint exactly what's causing the reaction so you can avoid triggers and prevent more severe reactions.

A physician can also equip you with an EpiPen if you show signs of a true kiwi allergy.

You should see a doctor for emergency care if you have any of the symptoms of a severe allergy, such as:

  • Skin changes like hives or itching
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat
  • Wheezing or gasping for breath
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting

Summary

Kiwi is a popular and nutritious fruit, but it causes allergic reactions in many people. On the mild end of the spectrum, kiwi can cause OAS with tinging, itching, or swelling of the mouth and throat. On the severe end, a true kiwi allergy can bring on breathing problems, gastric issues, loss of consciousness, and even death.

People allergic to kiwi often react to other fruits, vegetables, and pollens. If you notice allergy symptoms after you eat or touch kiwi, see a healthcare professional for testing. You may need to stay away from kiwi and plants that cross-react. You may also need medications, including an EpiPen, to treat a reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you test for a kiwi allergy in infants?

    A skin prick test is a common way to test for a kiwi or other food allergy. It can be performed on infants older than 6 months. This test is done by pricking the top layer of skin with a diluted allergen to see if it triggers an immune response. It is a safe test with little discomfort.

  • How quickly does a kiwi allergy occur?

    The type of allergy can determine how quickly kiwi allergy symptoms occur. Oral allergy syndrome (OAS), or an allergic reaction that primarily affects the lips, throat, and mouth, is usually an immediate response. A true food allergy reaction can happen within seconds or minutes, or it may not kick in for several hours.

  • How do you cook kiwi to avoid a food allergy?

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

  • How common is a kiwi allergy?

    Kiwi allergies are more common in areas that also have a lot of birch pollen. Among children who are already diagnosed with allergies to other fruits or vegetables, studies have found between 9% and 60% are allergic to kiwi.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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