Asthma Linked to Sexual Problems
May 8, 2000 -- It's not something that's talked about much, but many people
with asthma find that the illness interferes with their sex lives, either
because the symptoms get in the way of their sexual appetites or because the
exertions of making love make them start wheezing.
In one recent study, more than half of the people surveyed said that having
asthma detracted from their ability to enjoy making love. The researchers who
conducted the study presented their findings in Toronto at a meeting of the
American Thoracic Society, an organization of doctors who treat diseases of the
The researchers looked at more than 350 adults who had been treated for
asthma in the emergency department of Harlem Hospital in New York and who
responded to a questionnaire designed to determine asthma's impact on their
daily activities. The questionnaire was part of a comprehensive interview about
the patients' asthma and was completed three weeks after their emergency room
The questionnaire included several questions about the more mundane aspects
of daily life, such as climbing stairs and dusting furniture, which commonly
appear in quality-of-life questionnaires about asthma. But the investigators
also added a question that asked how much the respondents' ability to have sex
had been limited by their asthma in the previous two weeks.
Of the 353 patients who were given the questionnaire, 19% reported that they
did not have sexual relations at all. Among the 258 who were sexually active,
58% reported at least some limitation in their sexual functioning that they
felt was related to their asthma. "Only 34% reported no limitations at all
in their sexual activity," the authors write.
Rather than solving any mysteries about sex and asthma, the participants'
responses invite further questions, researcher Ilan Meyer, PhD, tells WebMD. If
someone is having asthma symptoms, does difficulty breathing make sexual desire
a luxury? Or do the respondents' answers mean that they have asthma induced by
the exertions of sex? Would a change in sexual position make physical intimacy
easier for people with asthma? These are examples of questions that may be
addressed in further studies, he says. Meyer is an assistant professor social
and medical science at Columbia University, with which Harlem Hospital is
Until further research is done, people with asthma should know that there
may be a link between their sex lives and the state of their illness.
"The participants in the study were quite ill, since they had recently
been treated in the emergency department. The findings may not pertain to
patients whose asthma is well controlled. However, the findings may indicate
that people with asthma should [make note of] any decline in sexual function
and report it to their physician, because it may be an indication of poor
health," researcher Jean Ford, MD, tells WebMD. Ford notes that people with
other chronic illness also often have sexual problems.
He encourages patients to take the initiative in bringing up the topic,
because physicians may be as reluctant to start a conversation about sex as
The survey responses confirmed what Ford suspected in his practice, he says.
"When I see a new patient, I ask, 'What would you like to do that you can't
do now because of your asthma?'" says Ford, who is director of the Harlem
Lung Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University.
"Often the answer would be, 'I would like to have sex without having asthma