Feature Archive

When You Have Asthma

Compromising sexuality?

WebMD Feature

Aug. 14, 2000 -- She's 36 and happily married, with one child and another on the way. She's got an upbeat approach to life. Even after six years of marriage, her relationship with her husband is as high-voltage as when they were dating, says Samantha (not her real name).

There's a problem, though. Like 12 million adult Americans, she's asthmatic. When her energy level rises, sexually speaking, Samantha's lungs sometimes fail and her passion plummets. She can end up literally hanging over the side of the bed hacking up phlegm -- not very romantic.

"It's a bummer," Samantha says, and you know she's understating a chronic medical condition that has caused her countless hours of grief.

Physicians who treat patients with asthma -- an inflammatory condition of the airways -- tend to focus on the disease itself, adjusting and changing medications to reduce or eliminate the wheezing and breathlessness that can occur. Until recently, a physician would not be likely to ask a patient like Samantha about her sex life.

But the results of a new study suggest that physicians would be wise to begin asking asthmatic patients about their sexual functioning. The study found that two-thirds of the 353 people with asthma surveyed said their sexual activity was affected by the disease. One in five said the disease has forced them into abstinence.

Talking about the patient's sex life during an exam to evaluate the asthma could be life-saving. "Serious limitations in sexual functioning indicate that the asthma is not well-controlled," says Ilan Meyer, PhD, an assistant professor at Columbia University's Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health, who led the study.