Sperm Allergy

June 1, 2009

Allergic reactions to semen (which is also casually known as “sperm”) may occur in both men and women. Some fertility specialists don’t consider semen allergy to be a direct cause of infertility, but women who suffer from the condition may find that they struggle to get pregnant, for reasons which will be explained later on. For some women, being allergic to semen means that their skin becomes itchy and irritated when it comes into contact with their partner’s semen. In extreme cases, women have even experienced breathing difficulties. Women with sperm allergies may have an internal immune system reaction to the proteins in their partner’s sperm cells. This reaction causes a woman’s body to attack and “disable” the sperm cells after the sperm has been ejaculated into her cervix and uterus.

Sperm Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of a mild sperm allergy are likely to include itching, redness, irritation and swelling of the skin, usually in the outer genital area. In more severe cases, symptoms may include hives, breathing difficulties and perhaps even loss of consciousness. Infertility can in itself be a symptom of sperm allergy, because this may indicate that a woman’s immune system is attacking and disabling sperm cells when they get inside her.

The Infertility Link

Sperm allergy can contribute to fertility problems in at least two ways. Firstly, the unpleasant allergic reactions described above are likely to discourage a woman from having unprotected sex, which is obviously a must if she wants to have children. For women who aren’t interested in getting pregnant at the moment, using a condom is the obvious solution. However, if a woman who has a sperm allergy does want to have a baby, she may find she has to suffer, quite literally, through the aftermath of unprotected sex. Secondly, a woman’s internal reaction to sperm cells can quite significantly reduce her chances of getting pregnant. Her immune system may produce antibodies which attack the proteins in her partner’s sperm as if the proteins were germs. These antibodies can damage the sperm cells’ motility, which restricts the sperm cells’ ability to “swim” to the fallopian tubes where they might stand a chance of fertilizing an egg. Obviously enough, if the sperm cells can’t move, their ability to fertilize an egg is greatly reduced.

Treatment

Mild sperm allergy – a woman with a mild sperm allergy can undergo a course of desensitization treatment. This usually involves going to the doctor several times over several weeks and each time having a small sample of her partner’s sperm placed inside her vagina. Gradually, the doctor will increase the amount until the woman is able to tolerate having unprotected sex with her partner. The aim is to allow the woman to conceive naturally and without experiencing too much discomfort.

Severe sperm allergy – more radical treatment may be required for women who experience severe allergic reactions to sperm or whose antibodies attack sperm cells. Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) are two methods of artificial reproduction used to help such women get pregnant. Both these fertility treatments involve “washing” a sample of sperm before inserting it into the uterus via a catheter (in the case of IUI) or using it to fertilize a woman’s harvested eggs in a laboratory (in the case of IVF). In IUI, sperm “washing” removes the proteins from the sperm cells, which eliminates the cause of the allergic reaction. In IVF, the sperm cells never actually come into contact with the woman’s body – they fertilize the eggs in a Petri dish or test tube. Only the already-fertilized embryos are inserted back into the uterus.

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