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Science

Semen allergy suspected in rare post-orgasm illness

Dutch researchers outline a rare syndrome where men suffer flu-like symptoms after having sex. However, there may be a treatment involving injections of a diluted solution of their own semen.

Semen drips from man's fist

In the study, 45 men were diagnosed with the illness

Men who experience burning eyes, a runny nose and other flu-like symptoms immediately after having sex may suffer from a rare allergy to their own semen, Dutch researchers say.

But there's also hope for men with the ailment known as post-orgasmic illness syndrome (POIS), according to findings published recently by Marcel Waldinger, a professor of psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Those results show that men can undergo a treatment in which they're injected with a diluted form of their semen in order to help them build up resistance to the allergens. The study appeared Monday in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Waldinger and fellow researchers also published findings in which 29 of 33 men suspected of suffering from POIS were vaccinated with their own semen and quickly showed signs of an allergic response.

"These results are a very important breakthrough in the research of this syndrome," Waldinger told the Reuters news agency.

He added the results "contradict the idea that the complaints have a psychological cause" and show that an auto-allergic reaction to semen is the most likely cause.

PIOS first documented in 2002

Sperm under a microscope

Waldinger and his research team are working on a treatment to build up resistance to POIS

The syndrome was first documented by Waldinger's research team in a medical journal in 2002. He speculates that the disease may be more common than doctors may think, but the shame and confusion sufferers experience prevents them from coming forward with their symptoms.

A second factor also complicates diagnosis, as the disorder remains largely unknown among family doctors.

One question raised by the research under taken so far on POIS is why the reaction only begins following ejaculation.

"Patients didn't feel ill when they masturbated without ejaculating, but as soon as the semen came from the testes...after that they became ill, sometimes within just a few minutes," Waldinger said in an interview with Reuters.

Treatment options

For men who have been diagnosed with POIS, it can be a long road to a more uncomfortable sex life.

After initial treatment success with two patients, Waldinger and his team have begun therapy with other men affected by the disorder. But the team cautions that building resistance to allergies can take as long as five years.

There may be another explanation for the initial success Waldinger's team observed in therapy trials with his patients, said Dr. David Goldmeier, physician consultant at the Imperial College Health Care NHS Trust, who has also studied POIS.

"In our paper, our patient with the same clinical picture responded rapidly to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication," Goldmeier told Deutsche Welle. "And this man recovered over a year, so Waldinger's paper where he desensitizes two patients who get better (90% and 60%) over a year might just be improving over time anyway."

Author: Greg Wiser (Reuters)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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