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Health

Can You Be Allergic to Semen?

We saved you a few Google searches by asking a smart person weird body questions.
March 31, 2015, 12:24am

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You guys, bodies are crazy. Did you know you could sweat and cry blood? Or that worms make your ass itch in an attempt for you to infect your loved ones with your dirty ass-hands? We didn't, and that's not really a great way to live so we asked our doctor pal some of our more perplexing questions, including: whether or not semen allergies real.

She responded firstly by politely asking if she could remain anonymous. Then she laid it all out in objective family doctor language.

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VICE: First question — what's with the laxative warnings on gum?
Dr X: Sorbitol is used in most types of sugarless chewing gum as an artificial sweetener, it's what's known as an osmotic laxative. If you chew a lot of this kind of gum, the sorbitol will pull excess water into your intestine making for a runnier stool—chew in moderation and poo in moderation.

Can you sweat blood?
Yes, it's an extremely rare and poorly understood medical condition known as Hematidrosis that literally means "blood sweat". The unfortunate sufferers sweat blood from intact skin when they experience extreme stress, fear, or vigorous exercise.

Can you cry blood?
Haemolacria, crying blood, can actually happen. Again, like sweating blood, it's exceptionally rare, but appears to have nastier and stranger causes. They could be crying bloody tears due to conjunctivitis (inflammation of the whites of the eyes); tumours or cancers in the tear ducts; blood going backwards during a nose bleed instead of out the nose; and also something called "vicarious menstruation".

This is when women bleed from a site separate from the uterus once a month. While this has been described in swooning 16th century women, it seems to have largely disappeared from medical literature.

Would eating human flesh be bad for you?
There is a very serious cautionary note: Kuru disease—the human equivalent of Mad Cow. It's a neurodegenerative disease that's transmissible through consumption of humans via a protein hidden within the human brain. It was endemic in Papua New Guinea amongst the Fore tribes who practiced ritual cannibalism as part of their funerary rites until they ceased this practice in the 1950s. Sufferers start off with tremors, slurred speech, and paroxysms of laughter, and end-up bed-bound and demented.

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This feels like a really inelegant subject change, but why do worms make your butt itchy?
Worms, like all parasites, are exceptionally clever. Anything they do to their unlucky host is for their own survival. Only certain worms make your bum itchy, the main culprits being the pinworm and the whipworm. These two suckers crawl outside your bum, typically at night, to lay their eggs in the anal folds. The eggs then set up an inflammatory reaction causing the host to itch, which is all part of the master worm plan. When the host itches they get a whole bunch of fresh wormy eggs all over their fingers which they then share with their family and friends. Thus the life cycle is completed—the eggs are swallowed, hatch in the small intestine and grow to be fully functional egg-producing worms in a month.

Are semen allergies real?
You can be allergic to pretty much anything, and sadly, that includes semen. Although having said that, the allergy is not to the sperm itself—as that would be incompatible with procreating—but rather to proteins within the seminal fluid. It's very rare with only 80 cases being well documented in medical literature.

What does a semen reaction look like?
Symptoms typically appear during or shortly after sex and can be systemic or local. Local reactions manifest as vulval or vaginal pain, burning, itching, and swelling which can last a couple of days. Systemic reactions often begin with the local vaginal/vulval itch and swelling with the itch spreading across the body to involve the face, lips, and tongue. In some cases, systemic reactions can include breathing difficulties, gastrointestinal symptoms, and full-blown anaphylaxis.

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Readers will be pleased to note that there have been no fatal semen allergies reported. Also only women suffer from this condition.

Seriously?
It's not surprising when you consider men have semen in them all the time so it would be problematic to be allergic to it.

Oh of course. It's gross but it's also kind of sad. Wouldn't that prevent you from having a relationship (if you're a woman who likes men)?
All is not lost sexually speaking: firstly, and interestingly, there have been no symptoms reported from oral contact with seminal proteins. Secondly, the key thing about semen allergies is women do not get symptoms when they use a condom. So, yet another reason why the humble franger is so wonderful.

Can sperm allergic people have kids?
Fertility is not affected as the spermatozoa itself is not allergenic. The options then are to get desensitisation treatment, or to use artificial insemination with semen that has been washed free of all of the fluid and proteins leaving only the sperm.

Can you be allergic to yourself?
"Self allergy" could be one way of understanding autoimmune diseases. Although doctors don't generally describe it that way because it may sound as if your immune system hates you. In fact your immune system is neither cognisant nor calculating, but this is because different parts of the immune system are responsible for allergy and autoimmunity.

Can you be allergic to water?
Kind of, but it's not a typical allergy. It's not possible to have an allergic reaction to drinking water, but it is possible to have a reaction to water coming into contact with the skin. This very rare condition is called "Aquagenic urticaria". The other name for urticaria is hives. These are raised, red, very itchy welts that can appear over your body for many reasons, or no reason at all.

In the case of aquagenic urticaria each time sufferers have a shower, a bath, go to the pool, or get stuck in a downpour, they will break out in hives. It is not a dangerous or fatal condition but understandably very annoying.

Could you change the colour of your blood?
Yes, but you wouldn't want it to. Our blood is red due to our red blood cells containing haemoglobin, a large protein which contains iron and is responsible for ferrying the oxygen all of our cells need throughout our body. When the haemoglobin is saturated with oxygen our blood is red, and when it has slightly less oxygen, like the blood in our veins, it is a darker red.

Blood not being red in humans is bad as it means there is a problem with the haemoglobin being able to carry oxygen. This is what happens in methemoglobinemia—when the iron parts of the haemoglobin complexes are oxidized to a different state. This altered haemoglobin has essentially changed its shape and cannot bind with oxygen, thus starving the tissues of essential oxygen. The appearance of blood in methemoglobinemia is either "choclatey" or bluish, which in this context is not very noble at all.

Follow Wendy on Twitter: @Wendywends