Up to 12 per cent of women could be allergic to human semen – with symptoms ranging from irritation, itching, painful urination, atopic eczema to anaphylactic shock.
But an allergy to seminal fluid will not affect a woman’s chance of conceiving, a Manchester Metropolitan University expert has found.
In a paper published in the journal Human Fertility this week, Dr Michael Carroll said the symptoms of hypersensitivity to human semen (HSS) are often misdiagnosed due to their similarity with other conditions such as dermatitis and some sexually transmitted diseases.
A lack of recognition of the condition in the medical community may be to blame, along with patients not approaching doctors about their symptoms, he said.
Women aged 20 – 30 years old are most affected, displaying symptoms immediately or up to one hour after exposure to semen. The survey suggests as many as 12 women in every 100 could be affected.
Dr Carroll, a Lecturer in Reproductive Science, and colleagues at the regional IVF clinic, St. Mary’s Hospital and the Department of Immunology at Central Manchester University Hospital, diagnosed four women with the condition based on the their clinical history and allergy skin prick tests.
Dr Carroll separated the sperm cells from the semen.
The seminal fluid and the isolated sperm cells were used in an allergy skin prick test. An immune reaction was noted with the seminal fluid, but no reaction occurred with the isolated sperm. This demonstrated the allergy is caused by a component in the seminal fluid (most likely a glycoprotein from the prostate) as opposed to the actual sperm cells.
Avoiding a reaction either by abstinence or with condom use proved successful in all cases, although this was obviously not an option for those wishing to start a family.
In the paper, Dr Carroll said: “In addition to the reaction and physical discomfort, women with HHS experience emotional stress due to the impact it can have on their relationships and the concerns about family planning.”
In severe cases with a high risk of anaphylactic shock, sperm separated from the semen and can be used in assisted reproductive technology such as intrauterine insemination.
Dr Carroll added: “There are numerous cases published of successful pregnancies achieved naturally and through assisted reproductive technology in women with this condition. We were able to reassure our patients that HHS does not cause infertility.”