Kiwifruit, which people sometimes call Chinese gooseberry, is a nutrient-rich fruit that is native to China. People with a kiwifruit, or kiwi, allergy may experience skin rashes or a prickly feeling in the mouth after contact with this fruit.
Kiwi allergies are a common cause of oral allergy syndrome. The symptoms of a kiwi allergy can vary from person to person.
When a person has a kiwi allergy, their immune system reacts negatively to certain substances in the fruit. They often also experience allergic reactions to other foods and materials, which is known as a cross-sensitivity.
People with this allergy should be aware of hidden sources of the fruit, such as some sorbets and smoothies.
In this article, we look at the symptoms and causes of kiwi allergies in adults and children. We also explain how to avoid triggers and when to see a doctor.
Kiwifruit is a common cause of oral allergy syndrome, which is a reaction that involves local allergic reactions around the mouth, lips, tongue, and throat.
The first signs of a kiwi allergy are usually mild and may include a prickly, itchy, or tingling feeling in and around the mouth. People may also develop a rash in areas where the skin made contact with the fruit.
Some people have a severe reaction the first time that they eat a kiwi, and they often continue to have severe symptoms. Similarly, if the first reaction is mild, future reactions also tend to be mild.
However, a person can sometimes have very little or no reaction to eating the fruit for the first time but find that a second exposure causes far more severe symptoms.
In most cases, kiwi reactions are not serious and produce mild local symptoms. However, severe reactions do occur, and they can cause a life threatening response called anaphylaxis. Signs of severe reactions to kiwi include:
- tingling in the mouth and throat that leads to swelling
- numbness in the tongue, lips, or throat
- difficulty breathing
- severe abdominal pain or cramps
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- a sudden drop in blood pressure
- a fast heart rate
- dizziness or loss of consciousness
The most common kiwi is the green kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa), also known as the Hayward kiwi. However, green kiwis, gold kiwis, and kiwi berry may all cause allergic reactions. People should avoid all varieties of the fruit until they speak with an allergy specialist about which foods to eat and avoid.
Kiwi is a common ingredient in the following foods and drinks:
- fruit salads, especially tropical varieties
- prepackaged frozen fruits
- fruit-based sorbet, gelato, and ice cream
Kiwi may also act as an ingredient in unexpected places — for instance, some manufacturers use kiwi to glaze paté or tenderize meat.
To avoid allergic reactions, people should read ingredient labels before trying new foods or drinks.
At restaurants, people with a severe allergy should make the staff aware. The kitchen staff will need to prepare the person’s food away from kiwis and ensure that they use different cooking implements for kiwi and other foods. Telling family and friends can also help prevent exposure to the fruit.
An allergy to kiwi develops when the immune system mistakes certain proteins in the fruit for harmful substances, similar to viruses or bacteria. The immune system then sends out white blood cells and other compounds, including IgE antibodies, to attack these substances.
This immune system response causes many of the symptoms of a kiwi allergy.
Research has linked a range of proteins in kiwi fruit to allergic reactions, including actinidin, thaumatin-like protein, and kiwellin. Evidence also suggests that a compound called 30 kDa thiol-protease actinidin may be a major kiwi allergen.
People with a kiwi allergy often have a hypersensitivity to other allergens. Kiwi allergies also have links with allergies to the following foods and substances:
- latex, known as latex-fruit syndrome
- pollen, known as pollen-fruit syndrome
- sesame and poppy seeds
- Japanese cedar
- meadow fescue
The risk of a kiwi allergy may be higher in children than in adults.
Parents and caregivers are often careful to avoid common allergens when they start weaning a baby. People often consider kiwis a good food for infants, but it is important to remember that there is a chance that a baby or child may have a kiwi allergy.
The body may not show symptoms the first time the child consumes a food to which they are allergic. The symptoms may only arise the second time the child eats the food.
In infants and small children, the symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe and may include:
- redness or swelling around the lips and mouth
- scaly or red patches on the skin
- excessive crying
- difficulty breathing
Parents and caregivers may also notice that the child has an upset stomach. They may vomit, have a bloated abdomen, or have diarrhea after eating. A parent or caregiver should take the child to see a doctor for any of these symptoms or a suspected food allergy.
It is best to see a doctor or allergy specialist at the first sign of a food allergy. Anyone who notices a tingling or prickly sensation in the mouth and throat after eating kiwi should see a doctor, as this may be the first sign of a strong reaction to the fruit.
A healthcare professional can perform a series of tests to diagnose the allergy. They will also be able to determine how severe it is and whether the person also has other related allergies.
If a person has a severe allergy, their doctor may recommend that they carry antihistamine medication or an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) at all times to use in the case of a severe allergic reaction.
If a person seems to have difficulty breathing, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
A kiwi allergy may be difficult to pin down at first as it shares symptoms with many other food allergies. People with a kiwi allergy often have other allergies, too.
Avoiding allergic reactions requires care, and people with severe allergies should carry medication with them in case of emergencies.
The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to visit an allergy specialist for a diagnosis as soon as symptoms show. These specialists are usually able to pinpoint what the person is allergic to, recommend ways to avoid triggers, and prescribe appropriate treatments.