The number of children suffering allergic reactions to kiwi fruit has risen sharply in recent years, according to British research.
Kiwi fruit has become a popular staple
Experts at the University of Southampton found more and more children under five are experiencing life-threatening symptoms brought on by eating the exotic fruit.
For some reason, the effects on young children appear to be much more serious than on adults, who usually suffer only mild symptoms.
The findings, presented at the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology in Paris, have raised concerns about the dangers to children.
The Food Standards Agency has now agreed a grant for the Southampton researchers to extend the study and try to pinpoint why children appear to be so much more at risk.
They reacted at a very early age - the youngest was four months - and often had severe symptoms
Dr Jane Lucas, University of Southampton
"We decided to investigate because we had seen an increasing number of children in our paediatric clinic with kiwi fruit allergy," lead researcher Dr Jane Lucas told BBC Online.
"They reacted at a very early age - the youngest was four months - and often had severe symptoms.
"This was different to the limited reports of kiwi allergy in the medical literature, which predominantly described adults with mild symptoms."
Luxury to necessity
Kiwi fruit were once considered a luxury food item, stocked only by specialist retailers. But in the last ten years they have become hugely popular as part of a healthy diet.
A Mori poll carried out two years ago revealed one in ten children chose kiwis as their favourite fruit, making them almost as popular as bananas and apples.
But there has been little research into the effects on children who might be allergic to the fruit.
Dr Lucas and her colleagues at the Infection, Inflammation and Repair Division of Southampton University recruited 300 children and adults with a confirmed allergy to kiwi and got them to complete a questionnaire detailing when they first suffered a reaction and how old they were.
The results, which are being submitted for publication in a medical journal, showed 40% of children under five with an allergy had experienced life-threatening symptoms, such as severe breathing difficulties and anaphylactic shock.
Two-thirds of the children became ill the very first time they tried kiwi - rather than after several exposures. Yet only a fifth of the adults were affected in the same way.
Other tests showed many of the children also suffered allergies to peanuts, milk and eggs.
Dr Lucas said it was not clear whether the numbers were rising because consumption of kiwis has gone up, or whether more people were becoming susceptible.
"There has been a large increase in people attending our clinic in the last seven years and our questionnaire indicates the allergy had become more common - particularly in children - in whom it was exceedingly rare in the 80s and 90s."