Sniff + sneezing = no love: 83 percent say allergies affect sex life

In a study, allergy sufferers reported more problems with sleep and sexual activity than other groups.
Sneezing and wheezing may stamp out those flames of desire. A new study reveals that allergies could be getting in the way of amorous activities.

“If you can’t breathe, and your nose is running, and your eyes are itchy, and you’re sneezing, and you feel awful and you feel tired, you don’t feel very sexy,” said Dr. Michael S. Benninger, chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and a lead author of a recent study. In the study published in the latest edition of Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, 83 percent of people with allergic rhinitis reported that their condition affected sexual activities. When a person with allergic rhinitis breathes in an allergen such as pollen or dust, he or she can get symptoms such as itching, swelling and sniffling. “When we look at how people interpret the disability of allergies, they show people who can’t go to a park or can’t appreciate their kid’s ball games,” Benninger said. But sexual activities also affect quality of life, he said. “We’re hoping this would stimulate people to start looking beyond the typical symptoms of allergic disease and looking at the impact of how people live,” said Benninger. “It’s really not your nasal congestion that’s the issue. It’s really how your nasal congestion impacts how you function. It’s looking at the quality of life.” In the study, Benninger and a co-author compared answers from more than 700 people consisting of allergy sufferers, people who have similar symptoms but do not have the condition, and a control group.

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Compared to the other two groups, allergy sufferers described more discomfort related to sleep, fatigue and sexual activity. Only 3 percent of people said their allergies never affected sleep. “Almost all allergy sufferers feel it impacts their sleep,” Benninger said. “If you can’t breathe, you’re not going to sleep well.” Twenty-seven percent reported that allergies almost never affected their sexual activity and 38.8 percent said it sometimes affected it. Another 17 percent answered that it always or almost always had an effect. The study did not ask patients the reason why their allergies affected their sex life. “It can be speculated that the chronic obstruction, runny nose, sneezing and decreased smell may all result in impacting the satisfaction of sexual activity,” researchers wrote in the study. “Even the simple act of kissing may be altered by these symptoms. Many people may not feel ‘sexy’ or may actually be embarrassed by their symptoms so that they would avoid intimate contact.” About 17 percent of those with allergies said their condition never affected sexual activity. “The number of people who said this did not affect them was quite, quite small — indicating that this is a problem that’s out there,” said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a medical director at Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, who was not involved in the research. “They’re not talking about it with their practitioners. And their practitioners are probably not asking about it.” Bassett said the way allergies affect people’s sex lives has not been examined very closely. “I do hear anecdotally from time to time patients saying, ‘I don’t feel very sexy or attractive because my nose is running. There’s an itch in my nose. My face is itchy. I’m stuffy. I can’t breathe. I can’t do exercise whether it’s lovemaking or anything else that affects me,’ ” he said. This could be a hidden and more widespread problem, said Bassett, who plans to ask how allergies affect sexual activities in patient questionnaires.

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“The bottom line: It’s a high number of people in this study that indicated this was a problem,” Bassett said. “I think we need to do a better job discussing this with patients.” Benninger recommended patients find out what they are allergic to, so they can avoid the irritants. For example, a person allergic to pollen should close the window in his or her bedroom to keep the allergen out, he suggested. “If you’re allergic to cats and let’s assume that the bedroom is the most frequent place for intimacy and your cat lays on the pillow, and then you go in at night, and you’re now sneezing — that kind of kills it,” he said. “There are things people can do to control their environments.” Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat allergies. Allergy sufferers whose sex lives have been affected should avoid sedating antihistamines, which could make a person sleepy, or oral decongestants, which can make a person feel anxious, Benninger said. “The most important thing is allergies should not be a factor that impacts intimacy and sexual activity,” he said.