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Condom allergy and irritation

If you notice irritation, redness or itching after using a condom, you may wonder if you are allergic to the condom. Many condoms are made of latex rubber, so if you truly are allergic to condoms, it may be a latex allergy that is causing the problem. In the USA, for example, about 1–3% of people are allergic to latex. The allergy is even more common (about 6–7%) in people who regularly come into contact with latex in their working lives, such as healthcare workers (because of latex gloves) and people working in latex manufacturing. Latex allergy is also very common in people with spina bifida, probably because they have had a lot of operations from a young age involving contact with surgeons’ latex gloves. Once you develop this problem, you always have it.

Is it truly condom allergy?

Allergy to latex condoms can cause a rash on the penis, or on the genital skin of your sexual partner. As well as redness, there may be blistering and itching. The rash usually occurs 6–48 hours after using the condom.

If these are your symptoms, latex allergy could be the reason. However, allergy to rubber (latex) condoms is very unusual; other things can also cause similar symptoms. For example, using a perfumed bubble bath, soap or shower gel that does not suit you can cause irritation on the genitals, or an infection such as herpes might be responsible. Some condoms contain a spermicide (i.e. it kills sperm), and your problem could be sensitivity to the spermicide, rather than to the latex rubber.

You may have food allergies as well. Latex comes from the sap of the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis. (This is different from the rubber plant that you might have at home.) People who are allergic to latex may be allergic to some plant foods that contain similar chemicals, especially avocado, potato, banana, tomato and kiwi fruit.

Too much friction is another possible cause of irritation, so use extra lubrication. Put some of the lubricant inside the top of the condom so that it covers the surface of the penis as you roll the condom on.

What you can do

Non-latex condoms. Check the description on the packet. Non-latex condoms are available, so if you think you may have a condom allergy, it would be sensible to switch to a polyurethane type (or other non-latex material). There have been no reports of allergic responses to the polyurethane material. 

As well as not provoking an allergic reaction, they do not have a rubbery smell. Also, they conduct body heat better so they feel thinner than they really are, which may make sex more pleasurable.

  • Durex Avanti is a widely available polyurethane condom
  • eZ.on is a polyurethane condom that is ‘bidirectional, so you can put it on inside-out.
  • Tactylon is another non-latex condom.

Research suggests that the Avanti and Tactylon condoms are as effective for contraception as the usual latex types. However, non-latex condoms are slightly more likely to break, so take extra care putting them on (see Using a condom).

Avoid spermicides. Also try avoiding condoms that are labelled 'spermicidally lubricated'. Check that the condom does not contain spermicide, such as nonoxynol-9. (In fact, this is less common in condoms now, because research among women at high risk of catching HIV showed that nonoxynol-9 actually increased their risk.)

Latex allergy can be serious

Latex allergy can sometimes be much more serious than just a rash. It can cause shortness of breath, feeling faint and swelling of the skin shortly after contact with latex. Anyone with these symptoms needs immediate medical attention. If this has happened to you in the past, you need to discuss it with your doctor, because in rare cases this type of reaction can be fatal. If you have latex allergy and need a medical or surgical procedure you should inform medical staff; you should also tell your dentist.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Sunday, February 4th 2018

 


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Fascinating facts

Early condoms were made of linen or pig or sheep's gut, tied at the end with ribbon. After sex, they were rinsed out and reused!

An 18th-century illustrated condom, featuring three naughty nuns, was sold at a Christie's auction for £3,300

There is no truth in the story that condoms were invented by a Dr Condom, physician to Charles II

Although it has been suggested that condoms were used by the Ancient Egyptians, the earliest actual report of a condom was by the Italian anatomist, Fallapio in 1564. He claimed to have invented a linen sheath, made to fit the penis, as protection against syphilis

In England, condoms are known as 'French Letters'. In Italy, they used to be called 'English Overcoats'

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