An allergy is the overreaction of the body’s immune system to a normally benign substance. When the body becomes hypersensitive to something, it treats it as an “invader” -- antibodies are created to destroy the offending substance, and the body experiences an allergic reaction. Allergies have become more and more common in our lives: food allergies, asthma, and allergies to environmental toxins are more prevalent today than ever. These reactions can vary from mild (sneezing, itching, watery eyes from pollen) to severe (anaphylactic shock and the shutting down of an airway from a bee sting.)
One uncommon allergy that can affect fertility is a sperm allergy. With this allergy, a woman’s body detects the protein in the semen as an allergen. Antibodies are produced by the woman’s body to “fight off” the protein, making insemination impossible. The symptoms, if detected at all, are similar to those of an STD or a yeast infection (burning and itching). But since the allergic reaction may be taking place in the vaginal canal, it can go unnoticed, or can be mistaken for vaginitis. Like any allergy, it can develop after years of no allergic reaction.
It is not yet understood why a woman’s body develops antibodies against sperm
, but it does occur in 5 to 25 percent of couples who are having problems attempting to become pregnant.
If it is determined that you have an allergy to your partner’s sperm, there are ways to decrease sensitivity to the allergen. By increasing contact with it, in small doses, the body’s reaction becomes less severe. There are two ways this can be done.
- Regular allergy injections containing your partner’s semen.
- Your doctor can insert small doses of your partner’s semen into your vagina every twenty minutes, gradually increasing the ratio of semen to the dilutant. This procedure takes place over the course of several hours.
In addition to these treatments, it is necessary to have intercourse two or three times per week, because if too much time goes by without contact with the protein, the immune system will treat it as a foreign substance all over again.
Note: any allergy can become more severe without notice, so if it is determined by an allergist that you do have a sperm allergy, be sure to go through any allergy treatment program under the supervision of a doctor.
Another important note: There is still hope for pregnancy even if you have a semen allergy
. Of the 5 to 25 percent of women who do produce antibodies against their partner’s sperm, 20 to 40 percent of them are able to become pregnant using assisted reproductive technology.