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Some Women Allergic to Semen

TUESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Some women who experience vaginal itching, burning and other symptoms after sex might be allergic to their partner''s semen.

According to new research, the extremely rare allergies to seminal fluid can cause symptoms ranging from simple irritation to anaphylactic shock.

While there are no reports of anyone dying from the condition, it''s possible that someone could stop breathing just like people who die after being exposed to bee stings and peanuts, said Dr. David Resnick, an allergist and acting director of the division of allergy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

"Physicians need to be aware that this does happen. If they do come across a patient like this, they should be referred to a specialist who deals with the condition," said Resnick, who was scheduled to make a presentation about semen allergy this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, in Philadelphia.

Semen allergy appears to be quite uncommon. According to Resnick, doctors have reported about 80 cases of semen allergy in medical literature. Still, Resnick said he sees about two cases a year, and the full extent of the condition is unknown.

In a small number of cases, a woman with existing allergies can suffer a reaction to food, drink or medication that her male sex partner ate earlier. Tiny particles can make their way into semen and irritate the woman''s vagina. Penicillin, walnuts and cola have been implicated in some cases, Resnick said.

It''s much more likely for a woman to be allergic to the semen itself, Resnick said. The cause appears to be a protein produced by the prostate gland that is a component of seminal fluid.

Some women can "just have local reactions and burning, itching and pain, and then there are women that have generalized reaction where there are hives all over the body, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, difficulty breathing," he said.

Most cases occur after vaginal intercourse, but some cases are related to oral sex, Resnick said. Anal sex could conceivably cause an allergic reaction, too.

So, what can a woman with the condition do?

Allergy shots are one treatment, or simply waiting for the allergy to go away. Dr. Ronald Simon, an allergist at Scripps Clinic, in San Diego, and colleagues have written about another treatment in which an anti-allergy drug was mixed into contraceptive gel and then inserted into the vagina.

Another alternative: The man could wear a condom, Simon said, and protect his partner from exposure to semen. But, latex condoms won''t work if either partner is allergic to them.

In his presentation, Resnick was expected to talk about another approach -- desensitizing an allergic woman by exposing her vagina to tiny bits of semen, then moving to larger ones.

But for this to work, the woman must keep the desensitization process going by having sex two to three times a week, Simon said. "If you decide, ''I''m mad at you, and I''m not going to have intercourse with you,'' then the next time you''re exposed to the semen, it will be a big problem," he said.

More information

Learn more about semen allergy from the AAAAI.

SOURCES: David Resnick, M.D., acting director, Division of Allergy, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; Ronald Simon, M.D., Scripps Clinic, San Diego; Nov. 13, 2006, presentation, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting, Philadelphia

Last Updated: Nov. 14, 2006

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