5 Reasons Your Vagina Is Having an Allergic Reaction

Find out why you have itching, redness, or irritation in your vagina or vulva.

Your vagina is a strong body part—it can squeeze a human out of it, after all. But the vagina and vulva also have some of the most sensitive, delicate skin on your body. If it makes contact with the wrong substances, your immune system could overreact and cause an allergic reaction.

"The vaginal mucosa, inside the vagina, is actually very porous, meaning it absorbs a lot of materials," explained Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn and director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. You may need to be cautious of even small amounts of allergens because of how readily they are absorbed.

An allergic reaction in your vagina or on your vulva shares a lot of symptoms with yeast or bacterial infections: itching, redness, irritation, and sometimes discharge. But unlike infections, "with an allergy, the symptoms will manifest almost immediately after the point of contact," Dr. Shepherd said.

While they can be annoying and uncomfortable, most skin allergies are not serious. They can be treated with over-the-counter allergy creams or a cool bath. However, if your symptoms do not go away or get worse, meet with a healthcare provider. To help you identify possible causes of an allergic reaction, here are some allergens that can affect your vagina and vulva.

Sperm

You can actually be allergic to your partner's sperm—this condition is called seminal plasma hypersensitivity. "Usually when we see patients with this, they have what we call a Type I reaction: After exposure to ejaculate, they have severe itching and swelling at the point of contact." Dr. Shepherd said.

In rare cases, your reaction can be anaphylaxis. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can lead to death. Symptoms usually occur in multiple body regions at once. Examples of symptoms include rash, swelling, difficulty breathing, and more.

"If you suspect sperm is to blame, your doctor can perform a skin prick test (the same way you would with an allergy to peanuts or pollen)," Dr. Shepherd said. If the test shows you have a sperm allergy, you can avoid sperm or have immunotherapy shots to reduce your allergy symptoms.

Latex Condoms

Natural latex is made from the rubber tree, and it can contain certain proteins that might trigger your immune system, causing an allergic reaction. Symptoms include localized itching, rashes, or hives, "but you could experience a more generalized reaction like anaphylaxis," Dr. Shepherd said.

A 2021 report in the World Allergy Organization Journal found that between less than 1% and 7.6% of the general population have latex allergies. These allergies can be more common in people with frequent exposure to latex, like medical or dental professionals. If you're part of that unlucky group with allergies, "there are plenty of latex-free options," Dr. Shepherd said. "There are [commercially available condoms] made from polyisoprene, polyurethane, and AT-10, a synthetic polyethylene resin." Dr. Shepherd added that sheepskin or lambskin condoms are also readily sold in drugstores, but aren't as protective against sexually transmitted infections.

Spermicide

Many condoms are pre-coated with spermicide, a chemical designed to kill sperm. If your allergic reaction is not triggered by sperm or the latex in the condom, you could be allergic to the spermicide coating. Your allergies could also be caused by foam or dissolvable film spermicides inserted into a vagina before sex.

"There are a lot of active compounds in spermicide, from benzocaine, a local anesthetic, to nonoxynol-9, an organic compound," Dr. Shepherd said. "Any of those compounds can cause genital soreness and irritation." If spermicide causes vaginal itching and burning, start using condoms without spermicide or try another type of contraception.

Fragrant or Deodorant Feminine Products

Your vagina does not need douches, intimate sprays, or vaginal wipes to be clean and healthy. According to Dr. Shepherd, these and other feminine hygiene products can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria inside your vagina, potentially triggering an infection. According to the Office on Women's Health, douching can also cause problems during pregnancy, increase your risk of sexually transmitted diseases, or lead to general vaginal irritation.

The fragrances added to many of these items can also leave you with an allergic reaction. "There are so many ingredients in those products, and any one of them can affect your vagina just like they would any other part of your skin," Dr. Shepherd explained. You could get tested by an allergist to find out what compound is causing your reaction, but you should stop using the product that causes your allergy.

Chemical Dyes

Many products you use on your vaginal area are dyed, from soaps to bath bombs to toilet paper. "There can be a lot of chemicals in those products that are not good at all," confirmed Dr. Shepherd. If you can trace your vaginal symptoms back to the dye in one of these products, stop using the product.

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