About Sperm, Hosts and other Allergens

24. May 2007
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What do sex and church services have in common? Both might cause an allergy. Allergologists know a whole bunch of such rare hypersensitivities playing hardly any role in practice. But for the individual, they can be a catastrophe.

Actually, the young woman had a hunch that it was her Aceto balsamico. Just a few hours after a home-made meal she all of a sudden developed an acute angio-oedema with urticaria, shortage of breath and a weakness. Up to now, she did not react allergic to any food, but the 23-year old suffered from neurodermatitis since she was a child. In this respect, a food allergy would not really be a surprise. But her past medical history drew the attention to another direction. When the physician in charge Dr. Gabriele Nist of the clinic for dermatology and allergology at the Clinical Center Stuttgart decided to go into detail in order to exclude any anaphylaxis induced by strain, she found out that her patient had unprotected sex with her partner only about one hour prior to each incident. Suddenly, sperm allergy was the suspect. An allergy test using undiluted sperm of the partner as an allergen showed strong positive results. And suitably enough, the young woman reported that she never had any problems when using condoms, as Nist mentioned in an article in the journal of the German dermatology association.

Watch out gynecologists!

“I saw four patients with that kind of sperm-allergy over the last couple of years”, said Dr. Nist during the interview with DocCheck-Newsletter. But the dark figure could be high, because symptoms such as itching or burning sensations after sex are unspecific and do not make people got to the physician. “But quite often, gynecologists do not even know about this allergy problem” observed Nist. Only few affected people show general allergic reactions. Whether rare or not, for affected women the question comes up what to do now after the diagnosis of sperm-allergy. A cross-immunity with latex does not exist. So, conventional condoms normally help to solve the issue – unless they tear. But if people want children it starts getting more difficult. To change the partner for sure is not the solution: “Because usually we are talking about an unspecific allergy which is not limited to the sperm of one particular partner”, says Nist. Recently they identified the allergen – an old acquaintance from early cancer detection – the prostate-specific antigen of the prostate glands. The immune reactions against this marplot are IgE-transmitted.

As is in the case with other IgE-transmitted allergies, hypo-sensitization can help. “Mainly a intravaginal hypo-sensitization works quite well” knows Nist. But: To keep the tolerance up after such a therapy circle, the couples should have unprotected sex at least twice a week.

Allergic to the “Body of God”?

Catholic sisters will not have that sort of trouble. But in some cases, church might cause hypersensitivity reactions in some rare cases. An English priest of the Middleton parish close to the Northern English town of Leeds made that experience. For years, he complained of bad pains and nausea after service. Nobody was able to help him. Until one day a physician had the idea that it could be the celiac disease. And indeed, the priest now and then ate the left-over hosts after service, which contained quite a bit of gluten. Ever since then, the “body of God” has to be gluten-free in Middleton.

Needless to say, that any secular culinary extravagances might in some way or another cause allergic reactions. There are people developing a distinctive type I-allergy after enjoying a meal of sour kidneys. Last year, a 76-year old patient had a circulatory arrest coming along with an acute Quincke oedema after eating this delicacy. After he was successfully reanimated, a Prick test was made and he showed a heavy reaction on sour kidneys. Also house plants time and again are the reason for unspecific allergic reactions. Most of all, the popular Ficus benjaminii can cause problems. This is relevant especially for the large number of medical personnel allergic against latex – a distinctive number shows a cross-immunity to Ficus benjaminii. The only possible consequence: Get that bush out of the house! It's not really pretty anyways….

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