Kiwi fruits, also called Chinese gooseberries, are nutrient-rich fruits native to China. They are popular worldwide and full of the antioxidant vitamin C, as well as potassium, magnesium, and fiber.

Kiwis are very healthful, but can be dangerous to someone with a kiwi allergy. Kiwi allergies are becoming more common, and children may be at risk. There are some signs and symptoms to be aware of, as well as steps to take to avoid exposure to kiwis.

The allergic reaction that people have to kiwis is caused by an immune system dysfunction.

Fast facts:

  • A person who suspects they have a kiwi allergy should see an allergist and be tested, so as to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
  • The symptoms of a kiwi allergy can vary from person to person.
  • There are places where kiwis hide that need to be avoided, such as sorbets and smoothies.
  • Someone with a kiwi allergy is more likely to experience allergic reactions to other foods and materials.

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A kiwi allergy may begin with mild symptoms, however any symptoms of a severe allergy should be treated immediately.

People with food allergies may notice mild symptoms at first. But these symptoms can get worse as they are exposed to the food more often.

The first signs of a kiwi allergy are often mild symptoms, including skin rashes, and a prickly, itchy, or tingling feeling in the mouth, throat, tongue, and lips.

Symptoms such as these are often grouped together and called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Symptoms of OAS can be caused by many allergens, such as pollen, fruits, dust, and dander.

Reactions to kiwis are serious and may be fatal if left untreated. 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 and cramps
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • a sudden drop in blood pressure
  • a fast heart rate
  • dizziness or loss of consciousness

These severe reactions may be signs of anaphylactic shock and require immediate medical attention.

The most common kiwi is the brown, fuzzy coated Hayward kiwi Actinidia deliciosa. There are other varieties of kiwi as well, and each may cause a different reaction in someone with an allergy.

It is important to avoid all varieties of the fruit until it is understood exactly what triggers a person's allergy.

Kiwi may be found in the following:

  • fruit salads, especially tropical kinds
  • pre-packaged frozen fruits or smoothies
  • fruit-based sorbet, gelato and ice cream

It is important for people with food allergies to read the ingredient labels of every food item they buy. Kiwi may be hidden in unexpected places, such as baked goods, cakes, muffins, and bread.

Anyone who is uncertain about a product should not purchase it, or call the manufacturer to check there is no kiwi in it.

At restaurants, people with a kiwi allergy should inform the staff to be certain their food is prepared away from any contaminants. It is also a good idea to tell family and friends, so as to avoid any unnecessary exposure to the fruit.

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A person with a kiwi allergy may also be at risk of reaction to hazelnuts, avocados and olives.

The immune system in a person with an allergy to kiwi fruits cannot recognize a protein in the fruit as food. Instead, the protein causes the body to react as if it were an intruder. This triggers the immune system to release histamine, and to put out antibodies to fight what it thinks is a threat to the body.

The allergen found in kiwi is similar to the allergens of many other substances. This makes it more likely that people with kiwi allergies will have reactions to more foods, plants, and materials. They may also be at risk of reactions to foods and substances, such as:

  • olives
  • wheat and rye
  • melons
  • sesame seeds
  • poppy seeds
  • hazelnuts
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • peaches and papayas
  • pineapples
  • apples
  • peppers
  • tomatoes
  • Japanese cedar
  • meadow fescue
  • latex
  • tree pollen, especially birch

Kiwi is linked to pollen-food syndrome and latex-fruit syndrome, which explains many of these cross-reactions.

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Symptoms of a kiwi fruit allergy in children may not show until they have eaten the fruit for a second time in their life.

The risk of a kiwi allergy may be higher in children than in adults.

Parents are often careful to avoid the most common allergens when they start weaning a baby. Kiwi fruits are usually seen as a good food for infants, but parents should remember that there is a chance that a baby or child may have a kiwi allergy.

There is a genetic component to this, and it is possible for children to be allergic to a food they have eaten before without issue. This is because the body typically does not show symptoms the first time a person consumes a food they are allergic to.

Instead, the immune system is triggered by it and learns to react any time the food is introduced again. So, the second time the child eats the food, they will experience the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

In infants and small children the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild to severe, and can include:

  • scaly patches on the skin
  • red patches of skin
  • rashes or hives
  • excessive crying
  • irritability
  • difficulty breathing

Parents may also notice the child's digestive system is upset. They may vomit, have a bloated abdomen, or have diarrhea any time they eat. An adverse reaction a child has to food should be checked by a doctor.

In most cases, it is best to see a doctor or allergist at the first sign of a food allergy. Doctors may recommend carrying antihistamine medication or an epinephrine pen at all times, in the case of severe reactions.

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.

Kiwi allergy may be difficult to pin down at first, as it shares symptoms similar to many other food allergies. Avoiding allergic reactions requires vigilance, and people with any food allergy should never be without antihistamine medications or epinephrine, in case of emergencies.

The best protection is to visit an allergist, as soon as symptoms show. An allergist may help someone pinpoint what they are allergic to, recommend avoidance techniques, and prescribe the correct treatments.