Sex and relationships

How to stop asthma getting in the way of close relationships

Find out how being open about your asthma, whether you’re dating or in a long-term relationship, can help your asthma and your relationships.

Read about sex and relationships when you have severe asthma  

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Dating when you have asthma

Dating can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, but you may have a few extra concerns because of your asthma.

If you’ve ever worried about asthma triggers, or using your reliever in front of someone new, it’s easy to feel like asthma can get in the way of romance sometimes.

Getting symptoms on a date 

No one wants to get asthma symptoms on a date, especially if it’s with someone new. What if they over-react or get put off? It can help to remember that asthma is very common.

The main thing is, if you do get asthma symptoms on a date, you need to deal with them quickly, which means using your reliever inhaler.

Don’t try and hang on in there, hoping your symptoms will calm down on their own - they won’t without your reliever inhaler.

If you’re embarrassed about using your inhaler, tell yourself:

  • how much better you’ll feel when your symptoms are back in control and you can get on with your date
  • how much worse it will be if you leave it, and symptoms develop into an asthma attack
  • it’s more than likely your date has seen someone use their inhaler before or knows someone with asthma. They may even have asthma themselves.
  • it’s one way to let them know you have asthma and get it out in the open!
  • asthma is nothing to be embarrassed about – if your date had asthma and needed to use their inhaler would you be embarrassed about it?

But if you’re really feeling self-conscious, or just don’t want asthma to be their first impression of you, you could say you need the bathroom, and use your reliever inhaler there. Or if you’re dating online, switch off your camera for a moment.

Remember, the best way to avoid symptoms is to make sure you’re looking after your asthma well all the time - use your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed, and have regular asthma reviews, so you can relax and enjoy your date, and feel confident that your asthma won’t affect you. 

Dealing with asthma triggers

You’re meeting someone new, and you’re looking forward to finding out about each other. So, what if they start talking to you about how much they love their dog, or cat?  Do you tell them you can’t go near animals?

And if you’re meeting in person, what if your date lights up a cigarette or their clothes smell of smoke? How about if they turn up wearing strong perfume or aftershave?

It’s best to be honest, however difficult that is, even if you wait until afterwards.

For example, you could say:

“I really enjoyed our time together. Next time do you mind not wearing perfume/aftershave when we meet? Strong scents trigger my asthma and I don’t want symptoms to get in the way of us getting to know each other better.”

Or:

“I try to avoid being around cigarette smoke because it triggers my asthma symptoms. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t smoke when you’re with me.” 

Telling someone new you have asthma

There are lots of reasons why it’s good to be open about your asthma. 

Once your asthma’s out in the open you can:

  • feel less self-conscious about using your inhalers
  • be open about any triggers you need to avoid, like pets and cigarette smoke
  • feel less guilty if you cancel or put off a date
  • talk openly about what to do if you get symptoms or have an asthma attack.

Ask yourself, if it was the other way round, wouldn’t you want to know about your date’s asthma so you could help them avoid their triggers, and support them if they get symptoms or an asthma attack? Would you think less of them because they have asthma?

“Asthma’s part of you, but it’s not the whole story,” says Debby, respiratory nurse specialist at Asthma UK, “so don’t forget to talk about everything else going on in your life as well.”

Take it at your own pace 

You don’t need to tell someone everything there is to know about your asthma on day one! It’s easier to let it come out naturally and in its own time, for example:

“I just need to take my reliever inhaler, so I don’t feel so wheezy.”

“I enjoy exercising and find it really helps me with my asthma.”

“I get hay fever. It used to make my asthma worse, but now I take anti-histamines alongside my usual preventer medicine and it’s not a problem.”

“Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t,” suggests Debby. “If you have a positive attitude to your asthma, and show confidence in how you’re managing it, it’ll let your date or partner know it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

Dealing with your date’s response 

Once you’ve mentioned your asthma, the chances are your date will tell you about someone else they know with asthma and the conversation will move onto other things.

But if your date seems concerned or worried about it, try to:

  • reassure them about all the things you can do, and how you manage your asthma with a regular preventer inhaler, so it doesn’t get in the way
  • let them know you have a reliever inhaler that works quickly if you get any symptoms
  • explain that everyone’s asthma is different, and tell them a bit about what yours is like and how it does or doesn’t affect you
  • point them to this website or the Asthma UK Helpline so they can get more information.

“It’s unlikely that your date will be put off by your asthma; if they are that’s more about them than you. Most people will focus on who you are as a person, not just your asthma,” says Debby. 

Feeling confident about sex

We know that sex can be an issue for some people with asthma, from finding it difficult kissing for too long, to sex triggering symptoms and an attack.

Some people feel they just don’t have the stamina for sex. Others are on long- term steroids for severe or difficult asthma and feel self-conscious about side effects like weight gain.

The best advice is to tell your partner about your worries beforehand. That way you can talk through possible solutions together, and when you do have sex, you’ll hopefully feel more confident that they’re ready to support you if you get symptoms.

It may feel embarrassing at first, but here are some examples of what you could say:

“I can get tired during sex because of my asthma, so may need to rest a bit sometimes.”

“I’m not so comfortable with hard kissing, because it makes it harder for me to breathe.”

“I’ll leave my reliever inhaler by the bed, in case sex sets off asthma symptoms.”

“Can we work out the best position, so we can go on for longer without my asthma stopping things?”

If asthma symptoms put you off sex

It is the case that for some people with asthma, sex, like exercise, can trigger asthma symptoms. But there’s a lot you can do to help prevent this happening.

So, before you give up on sex altogether, see your GP or asthma nurse for support on managing your asthma as well as you can.

“If your asthma is well controlled it means you’re far less likely to have symptoms or need to use your reliever inhaler when you have sex,” says Debby, “so you can feel more confident about sexual relationships.”

Find out more about sex when you have severe asthma.

Asthma in long-term relationships

If you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ll know that asthma needs to be something you’re both aware of, but not something that necessarily gets in the way of things you want to do together.

From where to go on holiday, to moving in together, to getting married, there are going to be times when your asthma needs to be considered, especially around your asthma triggers.

The good news is, there are simple ways to make sure your asthma isn’t putting a strain on your relationship, for example:

  • Use a written asthma action plan, which details exactly how to manage your symptoms and what to do if they get worse or you have an asthma attack. Make sure your partner has a copy too or keep one somewhere you can both see it at home
  • Always have your reliever inhaler handy and let your partner know where you keep it. Could you keep a spare at theirs?
  • Know your main asthma triggers, and make sure your partner knows them too, and can help you avoid them
  • Stick to your preventer routine, even when you’re staying over, or away together.

Find out more about managing your asthma well.

How does your partner feel about your asthma?

Try and see it from your partner’s point of view. It can be very scary seeing someone you love struggling to breathe.

Encourage your partner to be open and honest about how they feel.

For example, you could ask them:

  • Do you get frustrated when we have to cancel things because of my asthma?
  • Do you worry about upsetting me, or having an argument, because you think I’ll have an asthma attack?
  • Do you get scared when I have symptoms?
  • Are you scared about me having an attack when we have sex?
  • Are you confident that I can look after my asthma well?

“Sometimes it’s good to be bear in mind how your asthma can affect others as well as yourself,” says Debby. “This doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty about it or apologise for it. But it could give you another good reason to stay well, and help you understand more those times when your partner feels fed up or anxious about things.”

Help your partner feel more confident about your asthma 

Try these ideas to help reassure your partner and give them more confidence:

  • Talk your partner through your action plan. This will give them a clear idea of what you’re doing every day to stay well with your asthma. It will also tell them how they can help you if you get symptoms or have an asthma attack. You could talk about them keeping a copy of your action plan on their phone.
  • Show your partner your inhalers. You can explain why you need to take your preventer inhaler every morning and evening, and how this helps keep symptoms away. Tell them why you always need your reliever inhaler (usually blue) close by in case symptoms flare up, or you feel an asthma attack coming on. This is the inhaler they may need to get for you if you have an attack.
  • Ask them along to one of your asthma appointments or to your annual asthma review. This could help them understand your asthma better, and that with your GP’s support asthma can be kept in the background of your relationship. It could also make them feel more confident about supporting you with it when they need to.

Get support

Whatever your concerns about your asthma, you can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm and speak in confidence to one our respiratory nurse specialists.

You can also WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.

 

Last updated March 2021

Next review due March 2024

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