Allergic to Sperm?
My colleagues and I occasionally field questions from patients who have concerns about sperm “allergies”. This is a fascinating topic and my colleague at Pacific Fertility Center, Isabelle Ryan, MD, has been kind enough to share her expertise on this issue.
Many people say that they are allergic to their partner’s sperm, and that can mean different things, depending on the testing done. True incompatibility with sperm is very uncommon. Some female patients may have had a blood test to see if they have “anti-sperm antibodies” circulating in their blood stream. A positive test result actually does not correlate well to a true problem of incompatibility and infertility, and therefore this blood test is no longer recommended as part of infertility testing. An uncommon, but more relevant problem would be if the MALE partner were making sperm antibodies against his OWN sperm. Men who are at risk of this are those who have had testicular injury (scrotal trauma) or testicular surgery (torsion, tumors, or other indications). Antibodies are also commonly found in men who have undergone vasectomy reversal, especially if the interval between vasectomy and vasectomy reversal is a long one.
The sperm has 3 parts: the head, midpiece and tail. If the male patient makes sperm antibodies against the sperm midpiece or tail, this is probably of no consequence. If he makes antibodies against the sperm head, then this can prevent the sperm head from fusing with the egg membrane, and progressing with the important steps of fertilization. The remedy for this condition is to proceed to IVF, and have the embryologist inject the sperm directly into the egg membrane and cytoplasm. This injection process is called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), and will restore normal fertilization rates for that couple.
It therefore is important to be clear about the appropriate testing to be done, if one suspects a sperm incompatibility. The anti-sperm antibody test is done directly on the SPERM, and done in a laboratory which has the ability to do this specialized testing (usually an IVF or an Andrology laboratory). If you have a history that might place you at risk of making antibodies against your own sperm, please discuss this with your fertility physician.