If you’ve ever had concerns about how asthma affects your relationships, you’re not alone. People with asthma often tell us they worry about symptoms getting in the way. And a recent study showed that people with severe asthma felt less attractive as a result of having to take corticosteroids (which can result in weight gain), and guilty about not being able to have sex. This page will tell you what you need to be aware of and how to make sure asthma doesn’t impact on any aspect of sex, dating and relationships.
Feel more confident
One study found that asthma negatively affects the sex lives of two-thirds of people with asthma − in fact 19% of those surveyed said they hadn’t had sex at all in the two weeks before the study. And in an Asthma UK Asthma and your love life survey, almost three-quarters of you told us you’ve felt embarrassed about using your inhaler on a date or romantic night out, while over half of you have been embarrassed by wheezing. Meanwhile, 42% of you said you’d turned down a date or avoided sex because of worries about symptoms.
- “I worry about having an asthma attack on a date and drawing attention to myself.”
- “Having sex makes me wheeze and cough which is really embarrassing, especially during the heat of the moment.”
- “Yesterday I cancelled on my date because I was very short of breath. I often worry my asthma might put someone off.”
The good news is you can overcome these concerns and feel less self-conscious about your asthma when you’re dating or in a relationship.
Make sure your asthma’s well managed
“The best way to avoid having to deal with symptoms on a date or during a romantic evening is to make sure your asthma’s as well managed as possible,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. “Putting just a few simple steps in place means you’re far less likely to have symptoms or need to use your reliever inhaler (usually blue) while you’re out, so you can relax and enjoy your date, feeling confident that asthma won’t affect you.”
Managing your asthma well means:
- Using a written asthma action plan, which details exactly how to manage your symptoms and what to do if they get worse.
- Taking your medicines as prescribed. This will help reduce the sensitivity in your airways, which means you’ll be less likely to react to your asthma triggers.
- Going for regular asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse so you can make sure you’re on the lowest dose of medicine to manage your symptoms well.
“My partner panics sometimes when I’m wheezy and I have to remind him to stay calm. A while ago I gave him a handy Asthma UK advice card on what to do when someone’s having an asthma attack. This was really helpful.” − Asthma and your love life survey respondent
Tackle inhaler embarrassment
If you experience asthma symptoms while on a date, it can help to remember that asthma is very common and it’s likely your date won’t be bothered by you using your inhaler. “You are probably far more conscious of it than they are, and as most people have friends or relatives with asthma, they may well be used to seeing someone use an inhaler,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. “If you’d rather use your inhaler without your date watching you, you could say you’re popping to the toilet to use it.”
What’s important is that you don’t try to cope without your inhaler if you notice symptoms. Not using your inhaler means your symptoms may get worse, which you may find more embarrassing – or may mean you have to cut the date short and go home early. You may even end up having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack – don’t risk having to look back and regret that you let embarrassment get in the way.
Talking about asthma with a new partner
Only just over 30% of the people we surveyed tell a new partner about their asthma straight away. Most wait – either until they’ve been on a few dates, until they’re officially an item, or until the subject comes up naturally (for example, they have to use their inhaler in front of their new partner). You may delay telling a new partner because asthma is a normal part of your life and you don’t want to make a big fuss about it. Or you may simply not think about bringing it up until you need to. On the other hand, you may feel very worried about telling a new partner you have asthma in case they’re put off by it.
“I only mention my asthma if the subject comes up. Usually my date is aware of it because I may need to use my reliever inhaler at some point when I’m with them.” − Asthma and your love life survey respondent
Why being open can be helpful
Ultimately, it’s a personal decision but here are some reasons it can be helpful to mention asthma early on…
- You’ll feel less self-conscious about using your reliever inhaler if you need to.
- You can tell them how they can help if you have asthma symptoms – for example, if they know where your reliever inhaler is, they can find it quickly in an emergency.
- You can be open about any asthma triggers you need to avoid – for example, wood-burning stoves, pollen, perfume or aftershave.
- They will understand you’re not just making excuses if you can’t go out because of your asthma symptoms – and you’ll feel less guilty if you have to cancel or postpone a date.
How to bring up the subject
“When you tell your new partner or someone you’re dating that you have asthma, just keep it simple and matter of fact,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. You’ll probably find asthma will slip into conversation naturally at some point. For example, if you’re walking behind someone who’s smoking, you may say, “Can we hang back a bit? I have asthma and cigarette smoke can affect it.” Or, if you’re talking about exercise you enjoy, you could say, “I go cycling regularly – actually, it’s really helped my asthma.”
How to deal with their response
“The chances are the conversation may go no further at this stage,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. “And you never know – a lot of people have asthma so you may well find out your new partner or date has it too. If they’re concerned, you can reassure them and direct them to the Asthma UK website for more information. Explain that everyone’s asthma is different. You can tell them how asthma does – or doesn’t – affect your life, and say that you know how to manage your symptoms and what to do if they get worse.”
Although it’s unlikely, there is the possibility that your new partner or the person you’re dating may not know what to do or say when you tell them you have asthma. “If they are put off by it,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline, “remember this is more to do with them than you and most potential partners won’t be put off by your asthma.”
Get the most from your sex life
In our survey, over 68% of you told us asthma has directly got in the way of your sex life, and 46% said you felt you’d be more confident sexually if you didn’t have asthma. And a Polish study reported that over a quarter of women with asthma were diagnosed with sexual dysfunction, experiencing issues with sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm and sexual satisfaction. In addition, a Spanish study found that men with asthma had significantly more severe erectile dysfunction than men who didn’t have asthma. “While it’s true that sex can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms, there’s a lot you can do to help prevent this happening, and ways to manage symptoms if you do start having them,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. “Our page about sex as a trigger has lots of tips to help you enjoy your sex life. Here, we’ll look at how to cope with any anxieties you may have.”
Sex with a new partner can be nerve-wracking anyway, but you may have a few extra concerns because of your asthma. And even if you’ve been with someone for a while, you may still feel under pressure and worry that you won’t be able to enjoy yourself fully because of your asthma.
“When I get asthma symptoms my partner won’t be intimate until he’s satisfied I’m settled. Hardly surprising as the first time we had sex I had an asthma attack and ended up in hospital! I find my asthma more annoying than my partner does.” − Asthma and your love life survey respondent
These three steps will help you to enjoy the moment and stop any worries spoiling your fun:
1. Talk to your partner
Asthma may be the last thing you want to bring up in relation to sex. But if you think your symptoms may get in the way in bed, being open about this will help you to relax a lot more. “Simply saying you may need to use your reliever inhaler or you may need to change to a different position can really take the pressure off,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. “Even if you’ve been seeing your partner for a while, it’s good to talk frankly about how asthma sometimes affects you during sex if you’ve never mentioned it before.”
2. Don’t avoid sex
It can seem easiest to just avoid having sex in the first place. But that’s much more likely to affect your relationship than having to deal with any asthma symptoms that come up. “Remember that the more you avoid something, the bigger your worries are likely to become,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline.
“I always make sure my reliever inhaler is within reach as I often have to use it during sex. There are times when I also have to change position to lessen my wheezing. Sometimes I have to take breaks, which is incredibly frustrating as well.” − Asthma and your love life survey respondent
3. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse
Studies show that sexuality is not a topic that patients often discuss with their healthcare providers but if you talk to your GP or asthma nurse about how your concerns are affecting your sex life they will be able to reassure you. They’ll also be able to give you practical advice to help you feel safer and more comfortable. “Your GP or asthma nurse really will have heard it all before and will be pleased to be able to support you,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline. You could also ring our confidential Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) and speak to one of our friendly nurses or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.
Worried about being a burden in your relationship?
Just under 15% of the people we surveyed felt asthma had contributed to a relationship ending. In some cases, this was because a former partner had found their asthma too stressful, perhaps because they had severe asthma or because their condition was poorly managed. For others, the relationship ended because the person with asthma felt they were too much of a burden on their partner.
“There are some easy steps you can take to make sure asthma isn’t the reason your relationship comes under strain,” says Asthma UK nurse Caroline.
- Doing all the right things to keep your asthma as well managed as possible will help reduce its impact on your relationship – and help ease your worries that it may be affecting your partner, so you can get on and enjoy time together.
- Share your worries with your partner. Keeping them to yourself can make them seem more serious, and your partner will be able to reassure you. Together you can come up with some practical ways to stop asthma getting in the way of the things you want to do together.
- Encourage your partner to help you look after your asthma. There are lots of ways they can help you manage it – making it easier for you to stay on top of your asthma symptoms and helping them to feel involved.
- Why not join our online community to get tips from others about managing asthma and relationships?
Last updated September 2019
Next review due June 2022