Having severe asthma compromises sexual intimacy and strains relationships, UK research shows, yet healthcare professionals are not addressing this sensitive topic.
In a qualitative study analysing interviews with nine severe asthma patients, researchers found the condition affected people’s physical ability to have intercourse and restricted other everyday aspects of intimacy, with breathlessness even making kissing difficult.
Extreme fatigue from living with severe asthma restricted opportunities for intimacy, participants reported.
Even when patients had intercourse many worried orgasm would bring on severe bronchospasm requiring medical attention and an embarrassing conversation with an attending paramedic.
They also needed to navigate having medical equipment such as syringe drivers on hand while being intimate.
“We sort of have to think ‘where’s my nebuliser’ before I get romantic, is everything on standby?,” one participant said.
Lead author Leanne Jo Holmes, a lead clinical nurse specialist at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said even after more than a decade working with severe asthma patients she was “humbled” to hear how the condition impacted lives.
In addition to placing physical limitations on intimacy, the research highlighted how severe asthma was linked to poor self-image.
“The long-standing impacts of oral corticosteroids can cause really negative aspects of body image and self-esteem which then has a knock-on impact on the relationship,” Ms Holmes told the limbic.
“83% of females in the group gave their partners permission to seek sexual gratification elsewhere as long as they came home every night.”
Patients said HCPs never asked about their sexual quality of life, but they would disclose issues with intimacy if asked.
“From speaking to HCPs within our team, there is a worry about asking in case you open a huge can of worms but in reality just listening and signposting will help,” Ms Holmes said.
“I think normalisation that this is something we are aware of also helps patients to know that they are not going through this on their own.”
Addressing the fear of exacerbation, Ms Holmes advised patients to pre-medicate with their reliever before intercourse as they would before any other physical activity.
“If they do need to call an ambulance, then they don’t need to tell the paramedic what they have been up to,” she added.
The median age of study participants was 46 years and six of the nine were female. They were all in current relationships.