Treating Sperm Allergy
Sperm or semen allergy is a rare condition, which, while not a direct cause of infertility (according to medical experts), can be a complicating factor in the efforts of some couples to get pregnant. Women who are allergic to the proteins in their partner's sperm may experience unpleasant allergy symptoms (itching, redness, hives, etc.) when their vaginal tissue comes into contact with their partner's seminal fluid. This seems bad enough, but it may not be the only reaction a woman experiences due to presence of sperm inside her. Some women will produce sperm antibodies to attack and disable the sperm cells, seen by their bodies as foreign invaders similar to germs. This is a big problem for any woman who is trying to get pregnant, because her antibodies may be stopping her partner's sperm from fertilising her eggs.
Women who suffer from sperm allergy are likely to be advised by their doctors to use condoms and therefore eliminate the problem of coming into contact with their partner's semen. Of course, for a woman trying to get pregnant, this is not the solution. Two forms of treatment are recommended for women with sperm allergies who do want to have children. The first focuses on desensitising the woman to her partner's sperm, thus allowing her to have unprotected sex and stopping her allergic reaction. The second method is known as assisted reproduction, whereby the natural fertilisation process is ‘bypassed', so to speak, and the male's sperm is cleaned and introduced directly to the egg for fertilisation.
There are two types of desensitisation treatment.
Intravaginal Seminal Graded Challenge (ISGC) - during this treatment, samples of the male partner's diluted semen are administered at regular intervals into the woman's vagina. Concentration of the semen is increased as the treatment progresses. The treatment may last several hours and one sample is inserted every 20 minutes. Eventually, the woman builds up tolerance to the proteins in her partner's sperm and she can recommence having unprotected sex with him.
Allergy shots - as its name suggests, this method involves injecting the woman under her skin with small amounts of her partner's sperm. The injections are administered over the course of several weeks before the woman becomes desensitised and can start having unprotected sex with her partner.
Both of these treatments should be carried out only by a licensed medical professional in a facility which is equipped to cope with possible emergencies such as severe allergic reactions on the part of the woman. Some women with sperm allergies (although very few) may experience breathlessness or even lose consciousness when they come into contact with their partner's sperm. For this reason, it's recommended that women with sperm allergies keep a self-injectable epinephrine kit at home, just in case.
The desensitising treatments described above are not permanent cures for sperm allergy. Once a woman has built up tolerance, she has to maintain it by having regular, unprotected sex with her partner. Having sex two or three times a week is recommended. A woman who spends long periods of time away from her partner is advised to refrigerate or freeze samples of his semen so that she can maintain the tolerance she has acquired. If a woman is not regularly exposed to her partner's semen after treatment, the allergy may recur.
The Direct Route
For some women who have severe allergic reactions to sperm or for whom desensitisation treatment does not work, assisted reproduction methods such as IUI or IVF may be recommended to help them conceive.
If you think you may have a sperm allergy you should check out our article on symptoms and speak to your doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms may well worsen over time if no treatment is given.