At the Very Least, It’s Yeast
For the last few months, every time I have sex with a condom I get an irritation similar to a yeast infection in the few days following. I generally get yeast infections so I know the symptoms, but this is slightly different, where it’s more inflamed and has less discharge. I’m worried that I may have developed a condom allergy—is that something that can develop? If so, are there specific symptoms I should be looking for? What other options are there if it turns out to be a condom allergy?
—Allergy or Infection?
Condom allergies are usually actually an allergy to latex, which the majority of condoms are made of. Like any other kind of allergy, latex allergies can develop but they’re pretty rare and affect only about one per cent of the population.
In the case of a mild, non-life threatening allergy, symptoms typically appear 12 to 24 hours after exposure and can include typical allergy symptoms like itching, rash and hives, with the additional possibility of yeast infections.
Some of these allergy symptoms can look the same as yeast infection symptoms, and disruptions to your vaginal environment are generally what lead to yeast infections, so there’s also no reason to assume that’s not what’s happening. While you may know what a yeast infection looks like, they can also be slightly different depending on the severity.
The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor when you have symptoms. They can examine you and take a vaginal culture to see if you test positive for a yeast infection.
Most doctors will be able to tell and treat you just from examining your symptoms, but if this is a recurring problem and you’re concerned about a possible allergy it’s always best to let your doctor know and go from there.
If you want to do more before heading to the doctor, you can start other factors to see if it does seem to be the latex or just the condoms you’re currently using that are causing the problem. Certain condoms—and even sex itself—can lead to yeast infections, especially if you’re someone who is prone to them, so there are a few things you can try out to bring your doctor more info.
First, switch condoms. If you’ve been using the same brand since this problem started you could just be reacting to the lubricant. Switch to a different brand and see if you notice a difference.
You should also avoid condoms or lubricants that contain spermicide, since the chemical typically used in them, nonoxynol-9, is an irritant that can cause yeast infections and other reactions. You can also try using non-lubricated condoms and see if it makes a difference. If you try this remember that you need to apply a lubricant to the condom yourself. You can pick one out and test it separately on your skin first to see if you have a reaction.
Finally, give polyurethane (non-latex) condoms a try and see if it makes a difference. I suggest this after switching to different brands and lubes because if you switch first to a non-latex condom and stop having a reaction, it could just be the change of brand and lube that solved the problem rather than the condom material.
This elimination process can help you rule out some possibilities and gather more information, but it shouldn’t replace getting your symptoms checked by a doctor. It’s always best to further investigate suspected allergies, especially since a latex allergy doesn’t only affect sex.
Latex is used in many products you come into contact with, including gloves that can be used in many medical situations, so it’s good to get something like this confirmed.
If it turns out that you are allergic to latex, there are other options and they’re widely available. Most major condom brands now make non-latex alternatives, usually out of polyurethane, and at least one brand is available at most pharmacies.
Some brands also make natural non-latex condoms, sometimes called sheepskin or lambskin because they’re made from animal intestines. Keep in mind when checking these out that they only help prevent pregnancy and offer no protection from STI transmission, so they’re not ideal for everyone.
—Melissa Fuller, @mel_ful
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