A condom is a device used by men during sexual intercourse as a physical barrier to prevent pregnancy and spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It is worn on the erect penis to physically block their semen from going into the body of the female partner. They may also used for collecting semen to aid infertility treatments. Condoms are elastic, waterproof, and durable, and are commonly made from latex. They may also be coated with a lubricant that acts as a spermicide to further reduce the probability of pregnancy.
Some people experience allergic reaction to condoms. There are two types of allergies due to condoms, namely spermicide condom allergy and latex condom allergy.
Spermicide Condom Allergy
Nonoxynol-9 is an ingredient of all spermicides in the US, which is often used with condoms and other birth control methods. Nonoxynol-9 damages and kills sperms to prevent conception, but even if the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) considers it safe for use, men and women may experience an allergic reaction to it. Allergic reactions can be mild to severe, with symptoms ranging from itching and burning to anaphylactic shock.
1. Mild Allergic Reactions
Men and women who use condoms with spermicide can experience mild condom allergy, although this reaction is rare. Only three to five percent of women discontinue its use because of the side effects. Symptoms of mild allergic reaction include genital rash, itching, or irritation. Women can also have yeast infection or urinary tract infection. It is advisable to stop using the condom with spermicide if these symptoms occur, after which symptoms are expected to disappear on their own. However, urinary tract infection or yeast infection may be treated with prescription or over the counter medicines.
2. Severe Allergic Reactions
These allergic reactions are quite rare but may occur from spermicide exposure. Symptoms include genital blisters, swelling, painful irritation and abrasions in the vaginal and rectal areas. These severe condom allergy reactions require immediate medical intervention. Stop using the condom with spermicide and consult a physician as soon as possible.
3. Fatal Allergic Reactions
Severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can be fatal after nonoxynol-9 exposure, but it is rare. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include chest tightness, wheezing, itching, fever, swelling of face, tongue, lips, or throat. Seek immediate medical treatment because anaphylaxis can progress into anaphylactic shock, a condition that can be fatal.
Latex Condom Allergy
Latex is a substance that comes from rubber plant, and is used for the production of rubber. Natural latex is found in many common items like rubber gloves, pacifiers, rubber bands, shoe soles, rubber toys, balloons, and condoms. Some individuals develop allergic reactions to certain proteins in rubber latex, which can manifest in mild to moderate symptoms.
1. Types of Latex Condom Allergy
There are two types of allergies, which can occur with latex use. Immediate reactions or Type I allergy may be life threatening and is known as anaphylaxis. This reaction is characterized by a sudden drop in one's blood pressure, which can lead to unconsciousness. The other type of allergic reaction to latex is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction or Type IV allergy. It is a form of contact dermatitis, which manifests as skin rashes, hives, and itching.
2. Symptoms of Latex Condom Allergy
Reactions to latex can occur due to direct contact or inhalation of latex particles. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe according to the type of reaction one develops to the substance. Repeated exposure can worsen these symptoms:
- Urticaria or skin rash/ hives
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
Anaphylactic reactions consist of these symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea, vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Rapid weak pulses
3. Dealing with Latex Condom Allergy
Allergic reaction to condoms may be confirmed with a skin test, patch test, blood test, and Radio-Allergo-Sorbent-Test (RAST). The best way to avoid any allergic reaction such as condom allergy is to keep away from the allergen or the cause, which is latex. However, latex is found not only in condoms but also in many household items.
Treatment for allergies due to latex is includes taking medications like corticosteroids, antihistamines, and injections with epinephrine. Epinephrine is generally given for immediate hypersensitivity reactions or anaphylaxis. Delayed reactions such as contact dermatitis are usually managed with topical medications and oral corticosteroids.
People who have latex allergy can opt to use condoms which are not made of latex, such as synthetic condoms, made of polyurethane, or natural membrane condoms, which are made from lamb intestine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns however, that natural membrane condoms may not completely protect against sexually transmitted diseases and that non-latex condoms may have higher slippage and breakage rates than those made from latex. Furthermore, they are not widely available they tend to be more expensive.
Most people who develop condom allergy have latex allergy, but some individuals may be allergic to other substances found in the condom. It is best to consult a doctor to determine what specific allergen is causing condom allergy.