Fifty million Americans have allergies. If you’re one of them, you don’t need anyone to tell you that symptoms like nasal congestion, a runny nose, and red, itchy eyes can be extremely annoying.
But allergies are more than an annoyance. In fact, they can have a major impact on your quality of life. Studies have shown, for instance, that allergies can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. And the poor concentration and daytime drowsiness that result from allergy-disturbed sleep have been linked to poor job performance in adults and academic problems in children.
And now there’s evidence that allergies can put a big dent in your sex life. How big? In a study of 400 people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever), 83% said that allergies affected their sex lives at least occasionally. Seventeen percent said that allergies always or almost always had an effect of their sex lives.
Given the magnitude of the problem, “you start to wonder if all of this affects people’s relationships,” says Michael Benninger, MD, chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at The Cleveland Clinic and one of the study's authors. If allergies are putting a dent in your sex life, here's how to fight back.
Why allergies affect sex
Benninger says some allergy sufferers may simply be too tired to have sex. That could be because they’re sleep-deprived or because they’re fatigued by the ongoing war their bodies are waging on the inflammation associated with allergies.
But even when fatigue isn’t to blame, symptoms like nasal congestion or a runny nose might be enough to put a damper on desire. “It’s not very sexy when you keep sneezing during sexual activity,” Benninger says. “If you’re congested, you might have to stop to take a breath in the middle of a kiss. And no one wants their nose to drip on the other person.”
Self-consciousness about symptoms like puffy eyes or “allergic shiners,” the dark circles under the eyes that allergies sometimes cause, can also be a downer. “Feeling embarrassed by their symptoms may lead people to avoid intimate contact,” says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital/SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, N.Y. “A lot of women, in particular, seem to be embarrassed by symptoms that are not well controlled.”
Finally, there’s the matter of smell. Sexual activity is governed in part through the action of sex pheromones, chemical substances people’s bodies give off in order to attract potential mates. If your nose is stopped up and you can't sense the pheromones, experts say, that may rein in your amorous activity.
“Olfaction is one of our most complicated senses,” says Timothy L. Smith, professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “We’ve heard patients with allergies coming in and saying that their sense of smell is affected and that their sex lives have been affected by this.”
In other words, if you can’t detect the subtle scents your partner is giving off, you might not feel much like having sex.