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Semen Allergy

Causes, Symptoms, Treatment for Semen Allergy

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Updated July 05, 2010

What are the symptoms and causes of semen allergy?

Semen allergy is a relatively rare allergic reaction that is medically described almost exclusively in women where symptoms include vaginal itching, burning and swelling in the genital area after unprotected intercourse. In severe cases of semen allergy, hives or swelling may appear elsewhere on the body and the woman may experience difficulty breathing. The allergy may be to proteins in semen or, less commonly, it women may be reacting to other allergic substances transmitted in semen, including the medications vinblastine, penicillin and thioridazine and some food and beverages, including walnuts and Coca-Cola.

How common is semen allergy?

The prevalence of the allergy isn’t known, but in a 1997 study of 1,073 women (who were experiencing symptoms and sought information) approximately 13 percent were determined to have semen allergy, which makes this more common than previously assumed. Because women may be using condoms most of the time, and the symptoms of burning and itching can be mistaken for other problems, it is possible that semen allergy is going undiagnosed.

What are the treatments for semen allergy?

If you have a semen allergy you should make sure to have a self-injectable epinephrine kit in the event of a severe reaction. This is not a treatment per se, but an important intervention in case of a several allergic reaction.

The easiest way to deal with a semen allergy is to use condoms. In fact condom use is the prime method of diagnosing semen allergy. If irritation goes away with condom use, semen allergy is considered a likely cause.

There are other treatments available for semen allergy which all work by desensitizing the person with the semen allergy to the semen.

One method, called Intravaginal Seminal Graded Challenge (ISGC), involved inserting samples of semen into the vagina beginning with very diluted samples and gradually building up. The technique is performed over the period of a few hours, introducing new semen every 20 minutes. It is advised that couples engage in regular sexual intercourse to maintain the desensitization.

A second method involves allergy shots, where a small amount of semen is injected under the skin over several weeks. Regular unprotected intercourse is again required to maintain immunity.

Dr. David J. Resnick, acting director, division of allergy, the New York Presbyterian Hospital, who has studied semen allergy recently presented an update on the topic to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In a prepared statement Dr. Resnick described additional features of semen allergy, including:

  • 50 percent of women with semen allergy have other allergic diseases, such as skin allergy and allergic rhinitis (so-called "hay fever").
  • Most women experiencing semen allergy are between age 20 and 30, and 41 percent experience symptoms with their first sexual intercourse. “In most cases, symptoms gradually worsen and occur sooner with subsequent exposures,” he said.
  • Symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes of intercourse, but in rare cases it may be hours or even days later.
  • In some women, the reaction occurs with one partner while others are allergic to all partners, he said. There are also reported cases where women have “outgrown” the allergy without treatment.

Sources:

  1. Bernstein J.A., Sugumaran R., Bernstein D.I., Bernstein IL. “Prevalence of Human Seminal Plasma Hypersensitivity Among Symptomatic Women.” Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Volume 78 (1997):54–58.
  2. Resnick, D.J., Hatzis, D.C., Kanganis P., et. al. “The Approach to Conception for Women with Seminal Plasma Protein Hypersensitivity.” American Journal Of Reproductive Immunology Volume 52 (2004):42–44.
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