Press release: Sex survey reveals how asthma affects people's relationships

Asthma UK launches Valentine's Day awareness campaign

13 February 2017

Over two-thirds (68%) of people with asthma who responded to a survey by Asthma UK said their sex lives have been directly affected by their condition. The charity is launching a campaign on Valentine’s Day to raise awareness of how asthma can get in the way of sex and relationships, and how to seek help to enjoy a symptom-free love life.

Of the 544 people who responded to the Asthma and Your Love Life survey, almost three-quarters (73%) admitted they have felt embarrassed about using their inhaler on a romantic night out. Nearly half (46%) said they’d be more sexually confident if they didn’t have asthma, while just under 15% said they felt their asthma had contributed to a relationship ending.

People reported having to use their reliever inhaler during or after sex, with some deciding to reduce the amount of sex they have, or to stop having it altogether. Several also said they’ve been admitted to hospital because an orgasm triggered an asthma attack, while others reported problems with performing oral sex due to breathing difficulties.

Comments shared in the Asthma and Your Love Life survey include:

  • I was dumped in an ambulance once, mid asthma attack, because my boyfriend said I was causing him stress and he couldn't cope. I ended up going to the hospital alone.
  • I stopped having sex with my ex as I was embarrassed about having an asthma attack. It knocked my confidence and self-esteem so much that our relationship eventually broke down.
  • I’ve had to use my reliever inhaler during sex, and sometimes I’ve had to stop having sex altogether because my asthma got so bad. I now avoid having sex completely.
  • I’ve ended up in hospital because an orgasm set off my asthma.
  • Sometimes it's very difficult to breathe whilst down there (giving oral sex).

Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP, said: “People with asthma should be able to enjoy a healthy love life without their condition getting in the way. However, our survey shows that many people are struggling with asthma symptoms. If you find that sex triggers your asthma, this may indicate that your asthma is not under control and you should seek help from your GP or asthma nurse.

“You can reduce your risk of an asthma attack and ensure your asthma is well-managed by making sure you have a regular asthma review with your GP or asthma nurse, a written asthma action plan and an inhaler check.”

The charity will be hosting a live online ‘asthma and relationships’ themed Q&A on Friday 17 February 2017 between 12 and 1.30pm. People can post their questions in advance or on the day to asthma expert nurses on Twitter @AsthmaUK or on Facebook at facebook.com/AsthmaUK.

People can also contact the Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon-Fri, 9am to 5pm) to speak to an asthma nurse about their asthma concerns. More advice can be found on the Asthma UK website at: asthma.org.uk/advice/living-with-asthma/sex-and-relationships

Key findings from the Asthma and Your Love Life survey:

  • 73% have felt embarrassed about using their reliever inhaler while on a romantic night out
  • 68% say asthma has directly got in the way of their sex life
  • 64% say perfume or scented candles have triggered their symptoms on a romantic night out
  • 57% say they have felt embarrassed about wheezing while on a romantic night out
  • 47% say strong smelling flowers have triggered their symptoms on a romantic night out
  • 46% of people tell us they would be more sexually confident if they didn’t have asthma

Case Study - Callie-Anne

Callie-Anne is one of the 5 per cent of people with asthma in the UK who has severe asthma. It’s a specific type of asthma, where symptoms do not get better even when people take the usual medicines regularly and correctly, and where other causes and triggers for the symptoms have been ruled out as much as possible.

“I always say that for most people, having safe sex is knowing where the condoms are, but for my husband Lee and I it’s knowing where my reliever inhaler is!

“Severe asthma can be such a mood killer – I often start wheezing loudly during sex and feel like my chest will explode because I can’t get air out of my lungs. So, Lee and I have to stop so I can take my inhaler and catch my breath. This can be really embarrassing and frustrating, and for a long time after I was diagnosed I was too scared to have sex or be intimate. Lee stopped initiating anything and I started to panic that he didn’t fancy me anymore.”

“Lee and I worked together for six months before we started dating, so he’s always known about my asthma, but we’ve had to completely readjust as a family since my severe asthma diagnosis.

“Some days I have to stay in bed, so Lee’s taken on more responsibility - like doing the housework and looking after our two children. This can be frustrating, especially when Lee doesn’t do things the way I like. But if I try to do it myself, it can trigger my symptoms. This is upsetting for Lee and our shared frustration causes a lot of friction.

“It was about a year after my severe asthma diagnosis that I realised Lee and I couldn’t carry on as we were. Our sex life was on hold and we had been keeping our feelings to ourselves out of fear of burdening each other with more stress. But this was making things worse.

“So, one day I sat him down and explained how I felt about my severe asthma, and that I was worried he no longer wanted me. He looked at me like I was crazy. He said he was scared to initiate sex because once when he did, it triggered my symptoms and I had an asthma attack. He also said he didn’t know how to approach the issue with me because of my mood swings and felt helpless that he couldn’t help me.

“This was such an eye opener for both of us, and a turning point in our relationship. We’re now more open and honest with each other, and when it comes to sex, we’ve learned to just roll with it. If I start getting symptoms and I need to stop to use my nebuliser or inhaler, we just laugh and joke about how hot I look with a nebuliser mask on! It’s funny to think that while some people take toys into the bedroom, I take inhalers.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact the Asthma UK media team on mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk, 020 7786 4949 (during office hours) or 07951 721393 (outside of office hours).

The Asthma UK Data Portal is a new online tool for journalists to access the latest figures and trends in asthma outcomes across the UK. Information on asthma facts and statistics can also be found on our website.

About Asthma UK

  • In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
  • Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
  • Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
  • For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk