It is rare that transvaginal mesh for urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse causes an allergic reaction, but Dr. Christopher Walker, an award-winning urogynecologist who specializes in revision surgeries involving transvaginal mesh, told DrugWatch (February 2013) that there are reports of patients being allergic to the polypropylene. “Because they are allergic to it, they have an autoimmune response, inflammation and chronic pain. You have to take out all the pieces of mesh, which is a difficult thing to do.”
June wasn’t able to find a doctor in Canada, and particularly not a urologist, to remove the mesh. “Doctors don't want to hear my problem, but I recently went to Lockwood Clinic in Toronto and found out it was the mesh,” she says. “I had an allergy test and it determined that I am allergic to latex.” Although experts say there is no latex in the mesh, it is possible that June is also allergic to the mesh material, which is a form of plastic and, of course, a foreign body.
Latex allergy can result in potentially serious health problems, as June attests. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that severe reactions may involve respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and asthma (difficult breathing, coughing spells and wheezing). June knew she was allergic to the transvaginal mesh because it was the same reaction she had to latex. She first had a reaction a few years back, in post-op surgery, when latex tape was used to tape the IV. “The welts went away a few days after they removed the tape. Now when I go to hospital (I recently had a colonoscopy), I warn them not to use latex,” June says.
The day after transvaginal mesh surgery, June noticed the same reaction: welts all over her body. “They never connected my reaction to the mesh,” she says. “The itching started first. Now I have multiple bladder infections, yeast infections, urinary infections and pain on the left side so bad it makes me cry. Because of these infections and a very strong odor, it has wrecked me emotionally and I lost my partner because we couldn’t have sex.”
June finally found help. She has an appointment to possibly have the mesh removed in a few months. “I have to drive four hours to Toronto so I’m hoping they can take it out right away,” she says.
“I was better off without the mesh. I’d rather live with POP [pelvic organ prolapse] than this constant itching, pain and infection.”
Allergy to transvaginal mesh may not be that rare. HysterSisters, a chatline for hysterectomy support, asked if anyone with mesh problems has a latex allergy. Here are two responses:
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HysterSister: I was also told that this was really rare. My Uro/Gyn removed about 99% of the mesh. I still have pain in the posterior vagina that my Gyn feels is due to the mesh arm bands that were left intact... I’m having difficulty with side effects from the medications prescribed and the Drs mentioned Interstim. It’s sort of a bladder pacemaker that’s surgically implanted near the spine. With my history I think I’ll stick with bladder leakage. Me and foreign bodies just don’t seem to get along!!!