Asthma: When You Have Asthma (cont.)

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.

Meyer and a team of co-researchers at the university's Harlem Lung Center drew information from subjects whose symptoms were severe enough to send them to the emergency room. Each participant was asked to complete a quality-of-life questionnaire three weeks after visiting the ER.

Taken together, the answers paint a dramatic picture. Of the 80% who continued to have sex, 58% said asthma limited what they could do in bed. Meyer's team also found that people impaired sexually by their asthma tended to be depressed and to have little sense of control over their health, but it is unclear whether depression limited the sexual activity or the limited activity wrought by asthma led to depression.

Meyer's preliminary findings were reported in May at the 96th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in Toronto.

What Triggers the Bedroom Attacks?

Increased physical activity during sex may cause the airways to become inflamed, constrict, and even shut down. Chronic shortness of breath may be the reason other asthma patients simply avoid sex. The place where lovemaking typically occurs (the bedroom) may contain asthma triggers for some people, the research team says. "It may be the bedding itself or dust mites in the bedroom," Meyer says. "There's also been discussion of latex-induced asthma."

The latter refers to condoms. Studies of health care providers show that a small percentage have allergic reactions to latex gloves. The same trigger that sets off a skin reaction like hives could set off respiratory problems in others, says Meyer. But due to the lack of formal studies, it's impossible to say for sure.

What You Can Do

Meyer suggests that patients with asthma speak up about any concerns they have about their sex lives if their doctors don't ask. "It shouldn't be painful or embarrassing," he says. "We cannot say asthma is well controlled unless we know it is not impacting the patient's sex life."

If "sexercise" is causing a problem, bronchodilators should be used, if prescribed by a physician. These drugs relax the muscles in the large and small airways, increasing ventilation. They can be taken as pills, liquids, inhalants, or injections, and their optimal effect is felt in about an hour. However, overuse of bronchodilators is dangerous. Check with your physician about the optimal dose and when to take it. Inhaled medications may also be prescribed for daily use for long-term control of asthma.


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