- Sex may trigger asthma attacks, experts told Insider.
- People’s sex lives can be harmed, as fear of an attack can lead to anxiety about intimacy.
- Doctors are poorly equipped to help patients because so little research has been done.
Sex is probably a trigger for asthma attacks, experts told Insider, but hardly any patients know it.
This problem is likely widespread, experts who recently did a study on the topic told Insider, but so little research has been done that it’s impossible to know for sure.
That’s because patients are often too embarrassed to bring up their sex lives in appointments and doctors don’t necessarily think to ask, the experts said.
That can have a knock-on effect on patients’ sex lives as they can start feeling anxious about intimacy, one expert said.
The elephant in the bedroom
Ariel Leung and AM Aminian carried out the study — both are allergy physicians working at the Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, California.
“I have seen many patients, throughout my 36 years of practice, who have experienced these symptoms but are either not aware of this association or too embarrassed to volunteer to talk about it,” Aminian said.
They were inspired to investigate what research has been done but found very little.
After scouring the academic literature, they only found only 7 studies talking about sex triggering asthma, compared to about 1,806 published on asthma induced by exercise.
Their findings, which have not been peer-reviewed, were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology on November 10.
Common triggers for asthma likely lurk in the sheets
“The topic of sex gets buried and it really is a vital part of a person’s overall health,” said Barbara Kaplan, national director of asthma programs for the American Lung Association, in an interview with Insider.
“I love that this study is shining the light on the overall health and quality of life for people with asthma,” she said.
It’s difficult to know for sure, but it is likely that sex exposes patients to triggers that doctors wouldn’t necessarily think about, Kaplan said.
Exercise is one. Between 5% and 20% of the general population will have exercise-induced asthma at some point or another, regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with asthma.
“Many people don’t realize that the energy expenditure of sexual activity is about equivalent to walking up two flights of stairs,” Leung said in a press release.
There are also many allergens in the bedroom that could trigger an asthma attack, like fragrances in candles and scented lotions or dust mites in the bedsheets, Kaplan said.
Asthma may also be a turn-off
Finding sex uncomfortable or awkward can have a serious effect on patients, Kaplan said.
Feeling breathless can be stressful and exhausting, so it’s not uncommon for patients to feel nervous facing situations where their asthma has been triggered, like sex, according to asthma+lung UK.
“Even if it’s happened once when you’re having sex and being intimate with your partner, you potentially can have that anxiety again going into another situation,” she said.
It can also cause problems with self-esteem, for instance if the asthma means you have to stop halfway.
Talking with a doctor will definitely help
The good news is doctors can likely offer solutions if they know the patient’s triggers.
For instance, if the trigger is exercise, using an inhaler about 30 minutes before sex could help, Kaplan and Leung said.
“Some patients might think it takes away from the romance, but nothing is more romantic than taking care of yourself and not having your partner observe an asthma attack,” Leung said to the news outlet United Press International.
“If you stop, sit up, take your quick-relief inhaler, potentially you can continue the activity,” Kaplan said.
Another strategy may be to “consider the time of day when you’re being intimate,” Kaplan said.
“So maybe it’s early in the morning after you’re well rested, not at the end of the work day when you’re tired,” she said.
Putting pressure on the chest can trigger uncomfortable spasms in the lungs, so avoiding some sexual positions might also be best, Kaplan said.
Spooning, cowboy, cowgirl, and standing doggy are good positions for people who have trouble breathing, for instance, Insider previously reported.
“Obviously making sure that your partner understands your worries and fears and knowing that sex makes you anxious is really important,” Kaplan said.
Above all, what you should do is to talk about these problems with a qualified expert, Kaplan said.
“If you have symptoms every time you try to get intimate with your partner, then this could really be a sign that your asthma’s not well managed,” she said.
“I think is gonna be important on the healthcare provider’s side to think about intimate intimacy and sex as a potential trigger. And I think that’s what this study is highlighting,” she said.