The number of children who suffer allergic reactions to kiwi fruit has seen a sharp rise in recent years, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have found that more and more children under five are experiencing life-threatening reactions after eating the fruit, reported BBC News Online.

The results of the research, presented at the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology in Paris, have raised concerns about the safety of the fruit.

"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."

Dr Lucas and her fellow researchers questioned 300 children and adults with a confirmed allergy to kiwi fruits about when they had first experienced an allergic reaction to the fruit.

The results of the research showed that 40% of children under five with an allergy had experienced a life-threatening reaction, such as anaphylactic shock. Two-thirds of the children had an allergic reaction the first time they tried kiwi, rather than after several exposures. However, only a fifth of adults with a kiwi allergy were affected in the same way.

Many of the children were also allergic to peanuts, milk and eggs.

Dr Lucas said it was not clear whether the rise in the number of children suffering allergic reactions to kiwi was due to increased consumption and availability of kiwis or people becoming more susceptible to allergic reactions to the fruit.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency has agreed a grant for the Southampton researchers to extend the study.