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Do semen allergies really exist?
There are indeed women who are allergic to semen. Although rare, the true incidence is probably higher than once thought.
When should a woman suspect she has a semen allergy?
Women with semen allergies usually develop vaginal burning, itching, and swelling within a few minutes (but up to an hour or two) after sexual intercourse. They may also experience generalized hives (welts), itching, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fainting or dizziness. These symptoms are prevented by condom usage.
How does a woman confirm she has a semen allergy?
An allergist who has experience with semen allergies can get a good idea as to whether a woman has a genuine semen allergy just by listening to a patient’s history and symptoms. After this, he/she can perform skin testing with semen or perform a semen Immunocap test to confirm the allergy. Skin testing is performed with a diluted specimen of semen as one would do with regular allergy testing. The Immunocap test for semen is a blood test that is not performed at commercial laboratories and must be done at a special laboratory.
Is there treatment for semen allergies?
Avoidance is usually the best way to treat any allergic condition. Therefore, if the woman’s partner were to always wear a condom the symptoms shouldn’t occur. If this is unacceptable, taking an antihistamine 1 hour prior to sexual intercourse may help in very mild cases. However, for most patients this does not completely prevent symptoms from occurring. A third option is for patients to go through a desensitization process at a center, like ours, that deals with semen allergies. An intravaginal graded challenge is the method that is usually tried first. Semen from the patients’ partner is diluted down to very low concentrations. A small amount of the lowest concentration is than placed intravaginally. Every 20 minutes incremental doses are placed intravaginally until undiluted semen is inserted. The procedure takes approximately 2 hours. Once a woman is desensitized she must continue to have unprotected intercourse every 2-3 days to remain desensitized. If this procedure fails some patients will try receiving subcutaneous (under the skin) injections of semen as is done with regular allergy shots. This procedure is very expensive and takes many weeks to become desensitized. Very few centers perform this procedure.
Can a woman get pregnant if she has a semen allergy?
A patient that gets desensitized will have no more difficulty than the average woman in becoming pregnant. If patients are not desensitized, artificial insemination with washed semen or in vitro fertilization can be performed to achieve pregnancy.
Were can I go from here for further information?
For more information about semen allergies please contact Dr. Resnick at the New York Presbyterian hospital at 212-305-2300.