Can You Be Allergic To Your Sperm?
As crazy as it may sound, the latest research reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (1) provided statistical evidence that some men are allergic to their own sperm. This notorious condition is referred to as POIS (abbreviation for post-orgasmic illness syndrome) and is classified under type 1 hypersensitivity reaction (2). POIS was first recognized/ reported in 2002.
According to the study led by Dutch scientist Marcel Waldinger, the men suffering from sperm allergy do not experience any troubling symptoms when they masturbate (without ejaculating); however, as soon as the semen is released from testicles, symptoms of POIS kicks in.
In order to statistically prove this phenomenon, Waldinger enrolled 45 men in his study, out of which 33 agreed to participate in a skin-prick allergen sensitivity test using diluted semen sample of their own. Once exposed to the antigen, about 88% participants (29 of 33 men) manifested signs of an allergic response; suggesting an autoimmune reaction to the sperm antigen.
What Are Some Signs Of Sperm Allergy In Men?
Investigators suggested that following signs and symptoms are suggestive of sperm allergy in men and are usually experienced almost immediately after the ejaculation:
- Experiencing flu like symptoms (that are characterized by sneezing, watering of eyes and nose etc.)
- Low grade fever
- Swelling and/or itching at the site of contact with semen
- Unexplained fatigue
- Premature ejaculation
In severe cases, person may experience anaphylaxis (life threatening allergic response to certain antigens), angioedema and generalized redness or itching.
Physiologically sperm comes in the picture after puberty for the first time and it is very logical that the human immune system recognize them as ‘foreign’ or ‘non-self’. That’s why Nature has designed a totally isolated system for these little guys in the scrotum (away from the body at a much lower temperature) to minimize the risk of provoking the immune system.
Although research is still underway, but investigators have proposed that seminal plasma is the key allergenic substance that elicits the hypersensitivity response after ejaculation in these men. Seminal plasma (also abbreviated as SP) can be atypical or typical as suggested by a study conducted by Allam and Haidl (2).
- SP typical: In SP typical cases of POIS, PSA (prostate specific antigen) is one of the key allergens mediating the hypersensitivity response.
- SP Atypical: In this variety, certain medications or dietary nutrients that are secreted in seminal/ prostatic fluid are believe to elicit the allergic response.
Besides skin allergy test, other diagnostic tests that are used to diagnose POIS include; allergen specific IgE levels in the patient.
How To Manage POIS?
There has been a lot of debate on this topic. It was previously believed that POIS is in fact a psychosomatic illness; but investigators from the University in the Netherlands provided statistical evidence that symptomatology in POIS is due to an allergic reaction to sperm proteins.
Investigators proposed that symptoms of POIS can be managed by desensitizing men by exposing the affected individual to hyposensitized allergens in controlled doses over a period of time with gradual increase in the concentration of antigen until resolution from symptoms is achieved (4). However, hyposensitization is an extremely slow process and may take years to produce noticeable results/ improvement. If the couple is experiencing issues in getting pregnant because of POIS, various techniques such as SP-free sperms can be used for assisted reproductive techniques.
1. Waldinger, M. D., Meinardi, M. M., Zwinderman, A. H., & Schweitzer, D. H. (2011). Postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS) in 45 Dutch caucasian males: Clinical characteristics and evidence for an immunogenic pathogenesis (Part 1). The journal of sexual medicine, 8(4), 1164-1170.
2. Allam, J. P., Haidl, G., & Novak, N. (2015). [Semen allergy]. Der Hautarzt; Zeitschrift fur Dermatologie, Venerologie, und verwandte Gebiete.
3. Jiang, N., Xi, G., Li, H., & Yin, J. (2015). Postorgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS) in a Chinese Man: No Proof for IgE‐Mediated Allergy to Semen. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(3), 840-845.
4. Waldinger, M. D., Meinardi, M. M., & Schweitzer, D. H. (2011). Hyposensitization therapy with autologous semen in two Dutch caucasian males: beneficial effects in Postorgasmic Illness Syndrome (POIS; Part 2). The journal of sexual medicine, 8(4), 1171-1176.