If your birth control method has brought on some unwanted symptoms and you’re worried it’s an allergic reaction, know that allergic reactions to birth control are incredibly rare.
Your symptoms are more likely to be the result of medication side effects than an allergic reaction. But if you do happen to be allergic to your birth control, we’ll tell you what to do about it. Read on for more.
Nope! Side effects from birth control happen as your body adjusts to hormones in a birth control method. The changes in your hormone levels can cause symptoms like sore breast or chest tissue, nausea, and mood swings.
An allergic reaction is your immune system going on the defensive and overreacting to a foreign substance — usually a harmless one.
A severe allergic reaction is a medical emergency.
Head to the nearest ER or call your local emergency service if you experience any of these:
- trouble breathing
- coughing or wheezing
- swelling in the mouth or throat
- facial swelling
- severe abdominal pain
- low pulse
- slurred speech
Not common at all. Being allergic to hormonal birth control of any kind is rare.
Like, less than 1 in 1,000 rare.
Some people are sensitive to the hormones in birth control pills and other hormonal methods, but since the hormones in these are similar to hormones that already exist in your body, being allergic to them is pretty unlikely.
An allergic reaction to any hormonal birth control method is more likely to come from other ingredients in them, like the dyes in pills, the adhesive on the patch, or even the materials they’re made from.
Here are some examples and what the reaction for each might look like. Again, these are possible but very rare!
A recent study suggested that the ingredient polyethylene glycol (PEG) might be the major allergen in the shot.
PEG is also found in numerous other prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, like penicillin, pain relievers, and laxatives. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to any of these, there’s a good chance the shot will cause one, too.
Some pain, bruising, and swelling at the site are common side effects of the birth control implant.
If you have an allergic reaction to the implant, you might notice skin swelling and red, itchy lesions on your arm that continue to worsen until the implant is removed.
Hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) are generally safe, but it’s possible to be allergic to levonorgestrel — the hormonal medication in the IUD — or some of the materials the device is made of, like silicone or polyethylene.
That’s why this method isn’t recommended for people allergic to any of these.
An allergic reaction to a hormonal IUD can cause itching, hives, and dizziness.
Birth control ring
Allergic reaction is one of the potential risks of the birth control ring.
Allergic reaction is listed as one of the potential risks on the NuvaRing website. The potential symptoms they mention include:
- swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- swelling under the skin (angioedema)
Barrier methods make direct contact with the skin, so skin reactions are a possibility.
When it comes to the likelihood of an allergic reaction to a barrier method, those containing latex are the most likely culprits, with spermicides skulking just behind.
Most people experience local symptoms like skin redness, itching, and inflammation. This could involve the genitals, mouth, or any other part of you that comes into contact with the latex barrier.
If you’re highly allergic to latex, you could also develop more severe symptoms, like hives, swelling, trouble breathing, and anaphylaxis.
Now let’s talk spermicides. These sperm-busting chemicals can be found in some condoms and are often used with barriers like diaphragms and cervical caps. Some people use them in addition to condoms or on their own by way of suppositories, foams, and gels.
It’s possible to have a sensitivity or allergy to spermicide. If you do, you might notice skin redness, itching, and burning. FYI, even if you don’t have a true allergy to it, using spermicide a few times in a day can increase your risk for irritation.
Allergic reactions to barriers made from other materials, like silicone diaphragms and cervical caps, are highly unlikely.
Just because you’ve experienced an allergic reaction to birth control doesn’t mean you need to swear off contraception forever. You have options and a healthcare professional can help you switch.
And just so you know, switching doesn’t necessarily mean to an entirely different method.
Not all birth control pills contain the same dyes or hormones, so if you’ve had a reaction to one type, another type could still work for you — sans reaction. It could be as simple as swapping out a brand that contains colored pills for one that doesn’t.
If you had a reaction to the hormones in an IUD and you don’t have a copper allergy, you could switch to the copper IUD, which doesn’t contain hormones.
If you’ve had a reaction after using a latex condom, try a latex-free alternative, like an internal condom or external condoms made of polyurethane, polyisoprene, or lambskin. It’s also a good idea to check the package and see if the offending condom contains spermicidal lube, which could be to blame.
The same goes for latex diaphragms, which your doctor can swap out for one made of silicone.
If you want to switch methods altogether, you can do that, too. There are plenty of effective birth control methods available.
It’s a good idea to see a healthcare professional if you think you’ve had an allergic reaction to your birth control so they can determine if it was a true allergy or a side effect.
If your reaction is mild, you could wait it out and see if the symptoms persist, or, depending on the birth control method, switch yourself. Like, say, to a different type of condom.
For a severe allergic reaction, hightail it to the ER or call your local emergency services.
While it’s possible to be allergic to birth control, side effects are far more likely than a true allergic reaction. If you’re worried, reach out to a healthcare professional. They can help you figure out what’s causing your symptoms, prescribe any necessary treatments, and advise you on any next steps.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.