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Are Allergies Cramping Your Sex Life?

Nasal allergies may make you feel anything but romantic. Here's how to get back in the mood.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Here's a wild guess: When an allergy attack hits and leaves you sneezing and itching, with teary eyes and a nose that is runny and stuffed, you probably aren't much in the mood for romance.

It may sound obvious that drippy noses don't bring out the sex kitten in people. But for the first time, a study has looked at the impact allergies have on our sex lives and found that many people with chronic allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, often put the kibosh on sex when symptoms are flaring.

This new piece of research, published recently in the journal Allergy and Asthma Proceeding, comes from Michael Benninger, MD, chairman of the otolaryngology department and the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, and his son, Ryan Benninger, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. They found that 83% of allergic rhinitis sufferers polled said that their sexual activity was affected at least sometimes. About 17% said that allergies always or almost always had a negative impact on their sex life.

"People would say, this really bothers me, and I can't tell my spouse or significant other ... but when allergies flair, I don't feel like having sex," Benninger tells WebMD.

Hay fever affects as many as 40 million Americans, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Symptoms can include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, wheezing, or cough.  It's these common symptoms that are typically the focus of discussions between doctors and patients.

"When we talk to patients about allergies, we ask about fatigue, asthma, snoring, itchiness, and troubled breathing," says Clifford Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and attending physician specializing in allergy and immunology at New York's Long Island College Hospital. "We don't ask about things that go on in the bedroom. Sexual function is a quality of life issue that, as clinicians, we don't do a comprehensive enough job to assess."

What's Stopping You?

The reasons people with nasal allergies avoid sex weren't evaluated in his study, but Benninger speculates that the nature of hay fever symptoms leave people feeling, well, unsexy. "[When you have] difficulty breathing, teary eyes, and a runny nose, even the simple act of kissing becomes unappealing," Benninger says.

In addition, allergies cause fatigue and tend to impact sufferers' sleep. "When they go to bed, they want to sleep, not be amorous," Benninger says of people with hay fever.

Allergies also affect people's ability to smell. "We all know that smell and pheromones are a big part of sexuality, even in humans," Benninger says. It would follow, therefore, that if a person can't smell, their interest level in sex might decrease.

"It makes sense," Benninger says. "But nobody has ever talked about it. They always talk about other symptoms and activity. This is the first time that there has ever been a large-scale study showing that it makes a difference."

If your sex life has been put on ice because of nasal allergies, here's good news: You don't have to limit your lovemaking to the seasons when your allergies don't flare. Allergy treatments have come a long way, and help is available.

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