Infertility: Sperm and Semen Allergy
Five percent of the population, including both men and women, experience a sperm allergy or a semen allergy known as human seminal plasma hypersensitivity, which can significantly affect a couple's chances of getting pregnant, as well as cause some mild yet unpleasant sperm allergy symptoms. In other words, it is possible for a man to develop a semen allergy to his own sperm, while a woman can indeed be allergic to her partner's sperm and seminal fluid. But just how can semen allergies be the cause of infertility and what are some of the fertility treatments available to provide relief from semen allergies?
Sperm Allergy and Fertility
Semen allergies are characterized by an immune system response to the presence of sperm, resulting in the production of sperm antibodies. These antibodies work to to kill or disable sperm, hindering sperm motility and thus inhibiting fertilisation.
Less than two percent of fertile couples have a semen allergy; however, this number is significantly increased in couples with infertility, of which five to twenty-five percent experience semen allergies.
It is believed that the main source of semen allergies is due to a reaction to certain proteins that are found in semen. It is also possible for individuals to be allergic to protein that is unique to their partner's semen, as opposed to the more common protein that is shared by other individuals.
Types of Semen Allergies
Women and men can develop either localized sperm allergies or systemic allergies to sperm. A localized sperm allergy will begin to take place immediately after contact with sperm has been made. Localized sperm allergy symptoms will begin to appear at the site of contact and can include the following:
- burning, pain and swelling that can last for long periods of time
- swelling or blisters
- vaginal redness
Both types of allergy symptoms may begin to occur within five to thirty minutes after contact, and may last for hours or even days. This often contributes to a misdiagnosis of semen allergies as recurrent yeast infections or STDs, such as herpes, in women. Symptoms of a systemic sperm allergy can include the following more serious side effects:
- soft tissue swelling
- generalized itching
- trouble breathing (rare)
- vascular collapse or anaphylaxis causing loss of consciousness (rare)
Some people can have both localized as well as systemic semen allergies.
Risk Factors: Who Gets Semen Allegies?
While the cause of semen allergies in women remains unknown, a male semen allergy typically results from contact between the blood and sperm, fluids that don't normally mix in the body. A man's sperm may come into contact with his blood following a vasectomy, testicular torsion (a twisting of the testicles inside the scrotum), infection, or trauma. Thus, men who reverse vasectomies in the hopes of fathering a child face the risk of infertility caused by sperm antibodies that are developed as the blood reacts to semen.
Diagnosis and Fertility Treatment
It is important for women to be carefully assessed by a urologist or gynecologist in order to determine the cause of symptoms and ensure that an underlying sexually transmitted disease is not present. Semen allergies are frequently misdiagnosed as yeast infections, herpes, and vaginal dryness, and in some cases, women are told that their vaginal vaults are too small to accommodate their partners, and are recommended surgical procedures to remedy this.
If you suspect that you are being misdiagnosed, you may want to consider getting a second medical opinion. One of the easiest tests that you can perform at home to help identify a sperm allergy is to begin using condoms, and see if symptoms disappear or are significantly reduced over time.
Couples who are diagnosed with semen allergies may be offered several fertility treatments to help get pregnant. These include the following:
- Protein Desensitization. This process is similar to allergy shots which are injected in small doses every ten to fifteen minutes over a period of several hours. In this case, however, a woman will be skin tested to proteins found in her partner's semen in order to identify the source of allergy. This protein will then be administered by a series of injections at increasing concentrations. If upon vaginal contact no reaction takes place, the desensitization treatment has succeeded.
- Semen Desensitization This option offers a less expensive and laborious fertility treatment and involves a series of injections of diluted seminal fluid, which gradually increase in concentrations and are inserted into the vagina.
- Artificial Insemination may be recommended with sperm that has gone through a protein removal process.
- Immunosuppressive Drugs such as cortisone and prednisone may be recommended since similarities have been found between sperm allergies and seasonal allergies. However, this method remains controversial.
Chat with other women suffering from sperm allergy and get the support you need.