ART And Sperm Allergy
A woman who suffers from a sperm allergy, also referred to as semen allergy, may struggle to get pregnant. Sperm allergies have been linked to infertility in both men and women. In the case of women, the unpleasant symptoms arising from sperm allergy (itching, soreness, burning and hives, etc.) may make them understandably reluctant to have sex without using a condom. If a woman's sperm allergy is very severe, unprotected sex may simply not be an option. Although very rare, there have been cases of allergic reactions to sperm in which women have lost consciousness and/or had difficulty breathing.
The sperm allergy could also be interfering internally with a woman's chances of getting pregnant. This is because a woman who is allergic to sperm may produce antibodies which treat the proteins in sperm cells like germs, and therefore fight the sperm cells whenever they enter a woman's body. These antibodies may completely disable the sperm cells and prevent them from ever reaching or fertilising the woman's egg.
Treatments are available to help desensitise a woman to her partner's sperm and allow her to have unprotected sex, thus increasing her chances of getting pregnant. These treatments will not, however, be suitable for all women suffering from sperm allergy. If a woman has a very serious sperm allergy as described above, or she has already tried desensitising treatments without success, she may be advised to look into assisted reproduction methods such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF). These methods ‘bypass' the natural fertilisation process and give a woman a chance of getting pregnant without coming into contact with the proteins in her partner's sperm.
As part of the IUI method, the male partner's sperm can be washed free of the proteins harmful to his female partner before they are inserted directly into her uterus where the sperm cells will, hopefully, come into contact with and fertilise her egg. Obviously enough, the man will have to provide a sperm sample prior to insemination. The sperm is then ‘washed' and inserted via a catheter, through the cervix and into the uterus. It's important that the insemination is timed to coincide with ovulation. Therefore, the woman will either have to keep careful track of her ovulation cycle or take ovulation-inducing drugs for several days before the procedure is scheduled to take place. IUI, like all assisted reproduction methods, carries risks and benefits, and you should read our pages on IUI for more information.
The IVF method completely avoids all contact between the woman's body and her partner's sperm. This is because IVF involves surgically removing a woman's eggs from her ovaries and fertilising them with her partner's sperm in a dish in a laboratory. Then, if fertilisation is successful, the resulting embryo(s) are inserted via the cervix, into the woman's uterus, where at least one will hopefully implant and develop into a healthy baby. IVF also brings with it certain risks (including that of multiple pregnancy) and benefits, which should be discussed in detail with a doctor. It is also an extremely intensive process which, just like IUI, may take several cycles of treatment before pregnancy is achieved. Pregnancy is not guaranteed either through IUI or IVF. Check out our pages on IVF for more information.