Allergies and Kiwis: Testing Required to Identify Reasons Behind New Allergies
By Nicholas Bills
The kiwifruit has become a staple of the American diet in recent years. The fruit is very healthy, with high levels of vitamin C, potassium, and beta-Carotene. These benefits have all correlated to providing the fruit with its modern popularity. The fruit is native to China but was brought to New Zealand and then North America post-World War II, where it is currently harvested for commercial use. Due to the newfound popularity of kiwifruits, having just become popular in the United States in the 1980s, increasing numbers of people have been diagnosed with allergies to the fruit. Studies of the allergy have linked this allergy to several other substances, many of which are commonplace, household items.
Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts abnormally to a foreign substance, usually one that is harmless. A substance that causes an allergic reaction is known as an allergen. Humans can develop allergies to nearly every substance that a person might encounter, ranging from dust and pollen to man-made drugs. These allergic reactions cause the body to produce a chemical known as histamines, which trigger immune system responses. These responses can range in severity, from mild coughing, sneezing, and skin rashes when a small amount of histamines is produced, to very severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis, a condition where the body falls into shock and death may occur shortly after the body produces large amounts of histamines.
The treatment for allergies largely ranges on how severe the reactions are. For people who present mild symptoms, the treatment is over-the-counter antihistamines, drugs that reduce the immune system's response to histamines produced. In those who have allergies to very common allergens, it is common for immunotherapy to be done to reduce the body's response when subjected to these substances. In the most severe cases, where anaphylaxis might occur, users often carry an epinephrine shot that they can inject themselves with to subvert their allergic reactions.
The interesting aspect of the kiwi allergy is that it is often not an isolated allergy. If someone is allergic to kiwifruits, then they also have a high likelihood of having an allergy to latex, birch trees, avocados, bananas, and hazelnuts. This has been found as a result of the closely-related proteins that each of these substances share. The relationship of the kiwi allergy is especially important to the healthcare industry because if patients knows that they possess an allergy to kiwis, they have a high likelihood of being allergic to latex as well, which often is an essential component of gloves. As a result, many healthcare workers will assume the worst and use non-latex gloves as a precaution.
In recent years the number of people with allergies has been on the rise. The kiwi allergy was first discovered in 1981, and today it has become one of the most common allergies in Europe, evidenced by the fact that nearly 4 percent of children are allergic to kiwis. In addition to kiwis, another common allergy is that of peanuts, which has been on the rise for decades. Recently a study has found that the rate of peanut allergies has risen 21 percent since 2010. However, the number of children with peanut allergies, which dominates more of the national conversation, is nearly 2.5 percent, significantly lower than the 4 percent of those with kiwifruit allergies.
Scientists are baffled as to why allergies are rising in humans. One of the most prevailing theories is that of the “hygiene hypothesis,” which finds that as humans have improved their overall cleanliness, they also have limited their contact with necessary bacteria that strengthen their immune system. This hypothesis is supported by much evidence, such as the fact that children on farms have lower rates of allergies, thought to be due to their greater exposure to these types of bacterias. In addition, a higher socioeconomic status in America is linked to higher rates of allergies, thought to be due to the improved cleanliness of households in higher economic conditions.
In this regard, further testing must be done to identify the reasons behind these new allergies. The kiwi seems as if it will continue to dominate the fruit market in future years, so we may see therapies identified to help prevent allergic reactions as this fruit becomes more and more prevalent.