Condoms (sex as an asthma trigger)

Sex

If your asthma symptoms get worse during sex, you can control them just like any form of exercise.

In an Asthma UK survey, Asthma and Your Love Life, over two-thirds of you told us asthma gets directly in the way of your sex life. The idea of coughing, wheezing or getting short of breath when you're supposed to be having a romantic moment can feel a bit embarrassing or stressful – especially if you need to stop to use your reliever inhaler.

But if your asthma is well managed, it doesn't need to stop you from enjoying your love life, so don't let it put you off having sex.

“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!” – Callie-Anne Skevington 

Why can sex increase your risk of asthma symptoms or having an asthma attack?

Sex, or any sexual activity, can sometimes trigger symptoms in people with asthma for different reasons.

  • When you're sexually excited, your breathing gets quicker and changes (you might start breathing through your mouth) and this can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Worrying about having symptoms during sex can increase stress levels and stress can be a trigger for some people.
  • Experiencing heightened emotions can be an asthma trigger for some people, too.
  • Sometimes, the home environment might be a source of triggers - such as perfumed candles or house dust mites.

How can I reduce the risk of sex triggering asthma symptoms?

The best way to avoid getting asthma symptoms during sex is to manage your asthma well:

  • Take your medicine as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse
  • Check with your GP or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly
  • Use a written asthma action plan
  • Go for regular asthma reviews.

If you're in a new relationship, take the time to explain to your partner before you have sex that you have asthma and that you may need to use your inhaler when you're having sex. Being open in this way may feel difficult at first, but means you're likely to feel more relaxed (and less likely to have any asthma symptoms) when things get intimate. For more tips on talking to a new partner about your asthma, read our sex and relationships page

What should I do if my asthma gets worse during sex?

If sex triggers your asthma, it probably means that your asthma isn't as well managed as it could be, so see your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible to get your treatment on track. You can also try these practical tips:

  • Keep your reliever inhaler close by so that if you have asthma symptoms during sex, you can use it straight away and rest until you feel better. Once your symptoms have stopped and you feel well, if the mood is right and you both still want to carry on, there's no reason why you can't.
  • If your asthma symptoms become worse during sex, your GP may suggest you take one or two puffs of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) beforehand.
  • You might find it more comfortable to try positions where your chest isn't weighed down. For example, both of you lay on your sides, either facing each other or with one partner behind. If your partner prefers to go on top, it's important that he or she doesn't press down on your chest.

If you avoid having sex because you have asthma or if sex often triggers asthma symptoms, talk about it with your GP or asthma nurse. They'll be able to check your medicines and discuss solutions. You may feel embarrassed talking to a health professional about sex, but remember that it's likely they've had lots of conversations with people who are going through similar experiences.

"GPs and asthma nurses are used to talking about things you might consider embarrassing, such as sex. For us it's not awkward at all, it's our job! But we can only help you to find answers to problems if you're honest with us," says Sonia Munde, Head of Helpline. "Some people find it helps to write things down before coming to the appointment. You can then read out the question, or if you feel really uncomfortable, hand it over."

To speak in confidence to one of our asthma nurse specialists, call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm, Mon- Fri) or use this Contact Form to email them directly. 

If you know you have a latex allergy

People with asthma often have allergies as well. Most condoms contain latex, which is a common allergen and can cause redness, irritation and itching. Latex-free condoms are available from most supermarkets and pharmacies. The female condom is latex-free.

If you have severe asthma 

If you have severe asthma, there's no doubt that the effects may have more impact on your sex life. For advice on making things easier, read our dedicated page on sex, relationships and severe asthma

Asthma and Your Love Life survey is open if you want to share your experiences of asthma and personal relationships

Last updated January 2017

Next review due November 2019