Condoms and Allergies: What to Know

What is Condom Allergy?

Some people experience itching, redness, or swelling after using a condom. These could be symptoms of a latex allergy.

Latex comes from the milky sap of rubber trees. Manufacturers use latex in a variety of medical and commercial products, including condoms.

Natural rubber latex contains proteins that can cause allergic reactions. According to a 2016 review, these allergies can occur in about 4.3% of the world’s population.

Latex allergies develop gradually with the use of latex products. The severity of symptoms varies.

This article describes the symptoms of a latex allergy and looks at other allergic reactions that can occur during or after sex. It also explains treatment options and when to see a doctor.

Condom Allergy Symptoms

A person may have an allergic reaction after touching latex products or breathing in latex particles. Allergic reactions can vary in severity and cause a wide variety of symptoms.

mild allergic reaction

A mild allergic reaction to latex can cause the following symptoms:

  • itching
  • swelling
  • redness
  • debris

moderate allergic reaction

Signs of a moderate reaction to latex include:

  • an itchy throat
  • runny nose
  • sneeze
  • cough
  • snarling
  • difficulty breathing

severe allergic reaction

A person with severe allergies may experience a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

During anaphylaxis, the immune system triggers the release of numerous inflammatory compounds called histamine. These compounds cause rapid and severe inflammation in the body.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • hives
  • swelling
  • low blood pressure
  • nausea
  • swelling in the throat
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach ache
  • fainting
  • breathing difficulties
  • fast heartbeat
  • cardiac arrest

Symptoms of anaphylaxis appear suddenly and can progress rapidly. People who experience it need immediate treatment with epinephrine, an effective drug against allergic reactions.

If the person or someone around them has anaphylaxis, they should contact the emergency services immediately.

Diagnosing latex allergies

To diagnose a latex allergy, the doctor will review the person’s medical history and symptoms.

The doctor may also ask about the person’s job. People who constantly work with latex products have an increased risk of developing a latex allergy. Examples include healthcare workers and cleaning staff.

Additionally, an allergist may perform a skin prick test to check whether a person’s skin is responding to the proteins in latex. They may also test the person’s blood for the presence of latex antibodies.

Other types of condom-related allergies

If a person has an allergic reaction after using a condom, it may not be due to latex.

Many condom manufacturers coat their products with substances such as spermicide and lubricant. These may contain chemicals that can irritate sensitive genital tissues.

spermicides

Spermicide is a form of birth control that prevents sperm from reaching the egg. Available as spermicide, gel, foam or suppository. People can also purchase spermicide-coated condoms.

The active ingredient in many spermicides is nonoxynol-9, which kills sperm cells. However, when a person uses it frequently, it can cause irritation and pain.

Frequent use of spermicide can increase a person’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, according to a report from the World Health Organization. Because it can make the vaginal mucosa more susceptible to invasion from microorganisms.

lubricant

Some lubricants and lubricants contain chemicals such as propylene glycol and glycerol. These can cause skin irritation in some people.

Some condoms have a lubricant-lubricating coating. People who are sensitive or allergic to compounds in lubricants should use non-lubricated condoms.

Some lubricants also contain spermicides. In a 2018 study, researchers found that lubricants containing spermicide can disrupt the structure of vaginal tissue cells. This can increase the risk of infections such as bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections.

latex-fruit syndrome

Some people with latex allergies are also allergic to certain fruits. This is called the latex-fruit syndrome.

According to a 2016 study, people with a latex allergy have a 35% risk of allergy to one or more of the following fruits:

  • avocado
  • banana
  • kiwi
  • melon
  • peach
  • fig
  • plum
  • papaya
  • tomatoes

Condom Allergy Treatments

Allergy treatment depends on the degree of allergy. In any case, people should avoid exposure to anything that triggers a reaction.

Anyone sensitive to an ingredient in a lubricant or spermicide should look for products that do not contain these ingredients. People can also try natural oils like aloe vera gel.

Also, some condoms are made from materials other than latex, such as polyurethane or lambskin.

Individuals experiencing severe allergic reactions may need to carry injectable epinephrine. When exposed to an allergen, they must self-inject epinephrine while waiting for emergency help to arrive.

When to see a doctor

Consult a doctor if signs of an allergic reaction persist for several days after last exposure to the suspected trigger. Persistent irritation may indicate an infection or other underlying problem.

Signs of infection may include:

  • unusual vaginal or penile discharge
  • frequent urination, which can cause a painful burning sensation
  • foul-smelling urine
  • stomach or lower back pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fire

The doctor can identify the underlying cause with physical examination and diagnostic tests. If the person has a genital infection, the doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics.

If the person does not receive treatment for the infection, this condition can spread and cause long-term complications such as infertility.

Anyone experiencing a severe allergic reaction should seek immediate medical attention.

Summary

Latex proteins, substances in lubricants and spermicides can cause allergic reactions. These allergies can significantly affect a person’s sexual experience. Severe cases can be life threatening.

It is necessary to check the labels on products for use during sex, as some contain known allergens. To help prevent future allergic reactions, a person can try products that do not contain these ingredients.

The doctor may run tests to confirm whether the person has a particular allergy. These tests involve analyzing a blood sample or exposing the skin to potential allergens.

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