Kiwi, alternately known as the macaque peach or the Chinese gooseberry, has gone from being an exotic import to becoming a colorful mainstay of healthy diets around the world. Along with its new-found popularity, however, comes a sudden spike in kiwi allergies. As compared to other allergens like milk and nuts, kiwi doesn’t get as much publicity. However, kiwifruit allergy is stealthily creeping up to become one of the more common, fearsome allergies in the world.
What Is Kiwifruit Allergy?
There are two different types of kiwifruit allergy.
- Some people discover that they are allergic to the kiwifruit itself. This means that any contact with this fruit, such as eating it or even touching it can trigger a harmful reaction which, in some cases, can be serious enough to cause anaphylaxis.
- There is a second set of people with an oral allergy syndrome. In this case, an already existing tree pollen allergy causes unwanted oral reactions to kiwi and certain other fruits and may experience painful swelling or a tingly sensation in the mouth, lips or throat when eaten.
Although the first type of allergy is more serious, it is important in either case to avoid kiwi altogether if you’ve identified it to be the cause of your problem.
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What Causes Kiwi Allergy?
To understand what causes kiwi allergies, it is very important to understand what the term cross-reactivity means.
Cross-Reactivity – Your immune system conditions itself to recognize particular antigen structures as foreign, without bothering much about the origin of these molecules. A high level of structural similarity between any two allergens from two completely different sources can cause similar allergic reactions in sensitive patients. This is called cross‐reactivity or cross‐sensitization.
Cross‐Reactivity In Latex-Sensitive People
Ingesting kiwifruit spells trouble for latex-sensitive people because it causes cross-reactions in their bodies.
A milky fluid derived from rubber trees, latex is used to make products like gloves, erasers, elastic, rubber bands, diaphragms, tubes, etc. Raw latex contains certain proteins which your immune system produces antibodies to fight off if you have a latex allergy. Incidentally, these proteins share a similarity in structure with the proteins that are found in kiwi, which your immune system fails to recognize as harmless. If you’re latex-sensitive, ingesting kiwifruit can cause your immune system to panic and release immunoglobulin E antibodies that engulf the proteins (antigens), signaling the release of histamines and other harsh chemicals. This is what is solely responsible for triggering allergic reactions throughout the body.1
Similarly, kiwi is also responsible for causing cross-reactions with a variety of other foods and substances (pollen, banana, avocado, rye grain, and hazelnuts). Those who are allergic to pollen from trees, develop allergic reactions upon ingesting kiwi because of the similarity in the protein structure of both kiwi as well as pollen.
Note: Cross-reactive foods are tricky. You may be fine eating kiwi one day, but will be unpleasantly surprised to find your body reacting adversely to it the second time. Waiting for a few days before eating the same food again reportedly helps reduce reactions, and allows symptoms to show themselves clearly.
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Symptoms Of Kiwi Allergy
For such a small, fuzzy fruit, kiwi sure can cause a lot of problems in adults and children alike. Kiwi allergy linked to oral allergy syndrome usually shows mild symptoms associated with the mouth, tongue, lips, and throat. It also causes a wide range of symptoms related to the skin, the respiratory and the digestive system, and can even cause severe life-threatening anaphylaxis reactions, especially in younger children. 2 3
1. Mouth Related Symptoms
- Itching, tingling or burning sensation in and around the mouth area, including the lips and the tongue
- Swelling of lips, tongue, mouth, and throat
2. Skin Related Symptoms
- Itchy skin rashes
- Swollen skin
- Redness of skin
3. Respiratory System Related Symptoms
- Difficulty in breathing followed by shortness of breath
- Congestion in the nasal cavity
4. Digestive System Related Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
5. Severe Anaphylaxis Reaction
- Extreme difficulty in breathing
- Constriction of air passages because of severe swelling in the throat
- Rapid heart rate
- An abrupt decrease in blood pressure
- Anaphylactic shock
- Untreated anaphylaxis may even result in coma or death
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Diagnosis Of Kiwi Allergy
The following tests are usually conducted to diagnose kiwi allergy effectively.
- Skin Prick Test – This is conducted by injecting a tiny amount of the allergen underneath the skin.
- Food Elimination Test – The food item suspected of being the allergen is temporarily removed from the diet of the patient.
- Cross-Reactivity Test –These are tests that are conducted for other related food allergies.
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Treatment Of Kiwi Allergy
Treating kiwi allergy symptoms right after the onset is essential to prevent the reaction from getting worse.
1. Dietary Changes And Caution
The initial line of defense against kiwifruit allergy is to avoid this fruit altogether.
Once kiwi allergy is detected, a disciplined diet that is devoid not just of kiwi, but also closely associated foods whose protein structure is similar to that of kiwi is mandatory. All kinds of smoothies, jams, desserts, and yogurts that are likely to have kiwi as an ingredient should be avoided while eating out. In case there is any confusion, asking the concerned person for a deeper insight would be the wisest thing to do. Although there is no research available, it is said that many manufacturers actually use kiwi paste as a substitute for fat while baking bread, muffins, and cakes. Food labels should be read very carefully while purchasing any food items. Any doubts regarding food labels and ingredients can be cleared by posing the questions straightaway to the manufacturer.
2. Prescribed Anti-Histamines
Mild symptoms of kiwi allergy may sometimes go away without any treatment at all. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines and soothing creams to help relieve mild itching, rashes, migraines, runny nose, or headaches.
3. Immediate Hospitalization And Emergency Treatment
Severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis shock cases are treated with immediate adrenaline injections and a trip to emergency room. If the possibility of an anaphylaxis reaction is detected, individuals are urged to carry an EpiPen, an injection containing adrenaline (epinephrine) which can open up airways in the lungs and narrow the blood vessels. These effects can help to reverse severely low blood pressure, shortness of breath, wheezing, severe skin rashes, hives, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Even after administering an adrenaline injection, it is always wise to visit the hospital immediately for a thorough check up, to follow up and monitor the emergence of any more secondary reactions.
Caution: Although injectable adrenaline is fairly simple to use and can easily be self-administered, it is best to consult a medical practitioner and learn the method if you’re a first time user.
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Can My Child Eat Kiwi?
Babies and young children need to be introduced to new foods slowly. It is advisable to wait for a few days after introducing new foods to your child, to observe possible negative reactions. Kiwi is a well known allergenic food, so make sure to consult your doctor before introducing it to your child, especially if you have a family history of food allergies. Children are found to be more sensitive than adults; however, the good news is that their sensitivity to food may gradually decrease as they grow older.
|↑1||Latex Cross‐reactive foods Fact Sheet. American Latex Allergy Association.|
|↑2||Lucas, J. S. A., K. E. C. Grimshaw, K. W. J. O. Collins, J. O. Warner, and JO’B. Hourihane. “Kiwi fruit is a significant allergen and is associated with differing patterns of reactivity in children and adults.” Clinical & Experimental Allergy 34, no. 7 (2004): 1115-1121.|
|↑3||Gawrońska-Ukleja, Ewa, Anna Różalska, Natalia Ukleja-Sokołowska, Magdalena Żbikowska-Gotz, and Zbigniew Bartuzi. “Anaphylaxis after accidental ingestion of kiwi fruit.” Postep Derm Alergol 30 (2013): 192-4.|