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Asthma Linked to Sexual Problems

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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 chest.

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 treatment.

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 affiliated.

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