Histamine reaction during sexual intercourse
Dr Janice Joneja was asked whether it was possible to have an allergic reaction to vaginal secretions during intercourse.

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Question:

I have been married for almost 8 months. My husband and I were not sexually active until we got married. Once we began having sex, we noticed that his genitals would start to burn or feel itchy.  We now realize that he breaks out into hives on primarily his penis (small red bumps) and also on his testicles. We have both gone to the doctor. His doctor said it appeared that it was not fungal and was simply a reaction to me. I went to numerous doctors’ appointments and tested negative for any STDs, thrush, yeast infections, etc.

This terrible outbreak continues to occur frequently, and we notice that it usually happens during certain times of my cycle, such as before and after my period. I wonder if it has to do with my pH levels and the fact that they are acidic, or if he has some sort of over production of histamine. 

Also, the reaction ONLY occurs during vaginal intercourse, and not at any other time. So, it seems to us that it is directly correlated with my vaginal discharge. We are currently at a loss and have not been able to find an answer from anyone. 

Dr Joneja says:

You pose an extremely interesting question, which I have never been asked before. I have had several patients who have encountered the reverse situation in which the wife was allergic to her husband’s ejaculate. In these cases it was the woman who experienced the type of symptoms you describe whenever the couple had sexual intercourse. It was thought that it was the sperm to which she was allergic.

In your case it sounds very likely that your husband is actually experiencing a contact allergy to your vaginal secretions during specific stages of your menstrual cycle. As you are aware, the chemical make-up of vaginal secretions changes at certain phases, such as ovulation and menstruation.

I have a few suggestions that may help you to find the cause, and a management strategy that might help with the reaction:

I suggest that you find a dermatologist or an allergist experienced in patch testing for contact allergies. In the patch test, the allergen is placed on the skin, an adhesive patch is placed over the site and held in place for up to 72 hours. A positive test results in a reddened, often itchy area under the patch. The practitioner should take a sample of your vaginal secretions at the times your husband usually experiences the reaction, place it on his arm or back and cover with the adhesive patch.  The area is typically examined after 24, 48 and 72 hours for a positive reaction.  This will definitively demonstrate whether your husband is indeed allergic to your vaginal secretions.

The next stage, of course, is to find a treatment for the problem. It is nice to know the “why” of the reaction, but the most important question is the “how” of its management.  In the cases I have mentioned in which the wife is the allergic partner, we found that we could successfully manage her reactions with an alkaline douche. I think that perhaps this would work for your husband. You should douche with a mixture of alkaline salts in warm water. Alkaline salts can be obtained from a compounding pharmacist. The mixture contains a 2:1 ratio of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to potassium bicarbonate. I recommend this for many of my patients who find it very helpful in managing their histamine reactions. Since histamine will inevitably be released in your husband’s reaction, it may just be enough to neutralise the effects he is experiencing locally. If you cannot find the alkaline salts in your location, you might find that sodium bicarbonate alone will suffice. Try it and see.  A tablespoon in 500 mL of warm water should work.

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January 2016

If you found this article interesting you can find a number of other articles on histamine intolerance both by Dr Joneja and others here, reports on histamine research here and a Q & A section on histamine with Dr Joneja here.

For many, many other articles on every type of food allergy and intolerance click here; for coeliac disease and other food related conditions, go here.

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Dr Janice Joneja, Ph.D., RD
Dr. Janice Joneja is a researcher, educator, author, and clinical counsellor with over thirty years of experience in the area of biochemical and immunological reactions involved in food allergy and intolerances. Dr. Joneja holds a Ph.D. in medical microbiology and immunology and is a registered dietitian (RD). 

She has been a member of the faculty at several Canadian universities, starting her career as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, and in the Faculty of Dentistry, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Since 2001 Dr. Joneja has been a faculty member in the School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, at the University of Surrey, in England, teaching in the M.Sc. course in Nutritional Medicine.  For 12 years she was head of the Allergy Nutrition Program at the Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Joneja is the author of six books and a dietetic practice manual on food allergy, a textbook on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and several distance education courses. Her most recent books include “The Health Professional’s Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances”, “Dealing with Food Allergies”, and “Dealing with Food Allergies in Babies and Children”.  Dr. Joneja’s work has been published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals, as well as in popular magazines.  She is a respected lecturer at universities, colleges and hospitals internationally, and regularly appears on television and radio call-in shows as an expert in her field.

Dr. Joneja is President of Vickerstaff Health Services, Inc., a practice that provides counselling for people suffering from all aspects of adverse reactions to food, and resources for the professionals and care-givers who support them.

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