Sex Talk

Can you be allergic to condoms?

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng answers your sex questions

25 March 2018 - 00:00 By dr tlaleng mofokeng

Q. I think I am allergic to condoms. Why is this, and what can I do about it?
A. An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance as if it were an invader. Antibodies and chemicals including histamines are released, and they cause an inflammatory immune response.
Most condoms are latex based. Some lubricants and many sex toys may also contain latex. It's possible to deveop a sensitivity to latex through repeated exposure over time. 
Latex allergy symptoms range from mild to severe. A reaction depends on how sensitive you are to latex and your reaction can become worse with each additional latex exposure. Many health workers are also vulnerable to the allergy due to repeated exposure to medical supplies containing latex, including gloves and elastic bands.
The milder form of the allergic reaction may lead to irritant dermatitis with symptoms such as dryness, itching, burning and scaling of the skin around the vulva.Development of any sort of genital rash or irritation will require a health-care provider to determine whether symptoms are a reaction to an irritant, or may be caused by something else entirely. It is recommended that you consult an immunology specialist for allergy skin testing and any other blood test necessary.
The female condom is made from nitrile and can also be used by people who have a latex allergy. Some male condoms are made from medical-grade polyurethane, others from lambskin.
One needs to understand the different ways that the materials used offer protection from sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy. It might take some time to find a suitable alternative and it is advisable to try different condom brands.
• Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng (MBChB), sexual and reproductive health practice, DISA Clinic. Call 011-886-2286 or visit
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