Asthma can get in the way of sex and relationships for anyone with the condition. But there’s no doubt that the effects may have more impact if you have severe asthma. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy that side of life – but it may be important to think about certain things to make it easier. This page looks at some of the most common issues and how to deal with them – plus how to get the help you need.
"My husband John has been really helpful and supportive. He has asthma so his knowledge has been really useful. I think he’s frustrated that my treatment is still not fully sorted and the medicines I’m on are not quite right yet." - Joanne Beecroft, 36
The issue: Low energy
You may have days when you’re very tired and have to prioritise how you use your energy. For some people with severe asthma, there can be times when just doing the basics – such as preparing food and getting dressed – can be exhausting. This is particularly likely if you’ve been unwell recently. If you recently had an asthma attack and you had to go to hospital, it can take some time to recover. When you feel like this, it’s not surprising that spending quality time with your partner or having sex can be too difficult to manage.
Try this: What’s key is to speak to your partner honestly. Help them understand why you’re less involved in the relationship at certain times. Don’t assume they know, even if you’ve been with them a long time. If there are days when you feel less tired, try to make the most of them – whether that means having a special meal together or making time for sex.
You could also try coming up with a list of simple things you can do together to help you feel closer when you’re very tired – such as cuddling up and watching your favourite box set in the evening. These little things can help you feel intimate even when you don’t have the energy for anything else.
The issue: Guilt
You might sometimes worry that you’re being a burden on your partner, particularly if they care for you full-time or part-time. Lots of people with long-term health conditions have this concern. It can be especially difficult if your partner is doing a lot for you and you can see they’re very tired and stressed. There may even be times you think they would be better off with someone else.
Try this: Talk to your partner about your worries – it’s likely they will reassure you that they don’t see your relationship in that way. Encourage them to speak to you honestly about their feelings. You may be able to find some ways, between you, to ease the strain on your partner. For example, are there are other people around who can take on some of the jobs your partner does, such as driving you to appointments? If you’re finding it really difficult to cope with guilt or find ways to ease the pressure on your relationship, it may help to get some counselling to help you find some solutions.
“Sometimes I feel like a burden or that I’m not doing my job as a wife or mum. I have to rely on my husband, Lee a lot and he will often say 'I don’t mind doing it' when I can’t do things like the cleaning - but to me, he shouldn’t have to do it. I help as much as I can in other ways, like helping my children with their homework, and it’s nice to give Lee his time to play on the Playstation.” – Callie-Anne, 30
The issue: Low self-esteem
For some people, having severe asthma can really affect your body image and confidence whether you’re in a relationship or you’re single. You might worry you’re not attractive to your partner – or feel concerned you’ll never meet someone. If you’re taking steroid tablets in the long term, one of the side effects can be weight gain and a puffy face, which can lower your confidence even more.
Try this: Write a list of the things you do like about the way you look. Ask your partner or a friend to help you come up with ideas. When you’re feeling down, look back at your list. If you have ongoing body image concerns and they’re impacting your mood and relationship, don’t put up with them - speak to your healthcare professional. They may be able to refer you to a counsellor or psychologist for talking therapy to help you get your worries into perspective and develop more positive feelings about the way you look. Your healthcare professional can also talk to you about managing weight gain and other side effects of steroid tablets that might affect your body image. Exercise is a great way to manage your weight and feel more confident.
The issue: Fear about intimacy
People with severe asthma tell us they sometimes worry sex may trigger symptoms, and that this can be frightening and embarrassing, especially with a new partner. So you may end up avoiding getting intimate at all.
Try this: Sex is an important part of a relationship and you don’t need to miss out on it just because you have severe asthma. Making sure your asthma is as well managed as possible will give you the best chance of being able to have a good sex life.
There may be times you aren’t able to manage sex at all – but remember there are other ways to be physical with your partner, such as kissing and cuddling. Try to make the most of the days you have more energy and find some quality time to be with your partner.
Speak to your healthcare team about ways you can have sex more safely – for example, certain positions may work better for you when your symptoms are worse. It’s important you and your partner keep talking about how you feel. It’s possible they could feel rejected if you don’t want sex, so make sure they understand it’s because of your asthma and nothing to do with your attraction to them.
Getting help with your sex life
It’s not easy for anyone to talk about their sex life with their healthcare professional. But if you’re having problems, you owe it to yourself and your partner to try to get the right support. Don’t leave it and run the risk of looking back and regretting not seeking the help you needed. Also, bear in mind that if your symptoms are getting in the way of your sex life more than usual, this can be a warning sign your asthma isn’t as well managed as it could be.
If there’s one member of your healthcare team you feel more comfortable with, speak to them. They may be able to offer some simple tips to help, or they might refer you to a sex therapist. "GPs really have heard it all before so try not to feel embarrassed about being candid," says Asthma UK’s in-house GP Dr Andy Whittamore.
Don't forget, you can always call our asthma nurses on 0300 222 5800 to talk about ways to help manage your severe asthma so it's easier to enjoy sex and dating.
Sometimes, you might need extra help with the emotional side of your relationship. Relationship therapists specialise in working with couples and even a few sessions can make a big difference to how you deal with difficulties and negative feelings. They can help you explore the way you feel and suggest practical steps for moving forward.
If you’re single
Having a long-term condition like severe asthma might affect your feelings about relationships even when you’re not in one. You may lose confidence and feel you won’t be attractive to a potential partner because of your asthma. But it’s important to remember you probably focus on your asthma a lot more than someone else would. And although lots of people have a health condition – either mental or physical – they can still enjoy happy relationships. Talking all this through with a counsellor can help you think about yourself and your asthma more positively.
Last updated November 2016
Next review due November 2019