Much like intense exercise, vigorous sex can trigger an asthma attack in folks with the chronic lung disease, according to new research.
"There is a lack of current literature available on the prevalence of sexual intercourse presenting as exercise-induced asthma," said study author Dr. Ariel Leung, chief internal medicine resident at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, Calif.
This could be because sex isn't always the easiest topic to broach with your doctor.
"When sexual intercourse-induced asthma is properly identified and treated, allergists are placed in a position where they can improve their patients' quality of life and even their marriages," Leung said.
When it comes to the risk of having an asthma attack, vigorous sex is akin to walking up two flights of stairs, she noted.
The same measures that keep asthma at bay during exercise can also help stave off a sex-induced asthma attack.
"We recommend that patients take their short-acting beta agonist inhaler 30 minutes prior to sexual intercourse to prevent an asthma attack," Leung said. "Some patients might think it takes away from the romance, but nothing is more romantic than taking care of yourself and not having your partner observe an asthma attack."
The wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness that are hallmarks of an asthma attack are caused by inflammation that narrows airways. It can't be cured but it can be managed.
Along with taking medication as directed, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and eating well can also help keep asthma symptoms at bay, Leung said.
"If asthma symptoms persist [despite current treatment], it's strongly advised to see your allergist as you may need a controller medication to keep your asthma better controlled," she said.
For the new study, the researchers searched medical literature for articles on sex as a trigger for asthma attacks using keywords such as "sexual intercourse," "honeymoon asthma," "sexual behavior and allergy," and "allergic reaction."
Other than a few case studies, they didn't find much. They did, however, find more research on the risk of allergic reactions and asthma flares from semen or latex condoms.
The research was presented Thursday at a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), in Louisville. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"The literature is sparse on sex as an asthma trigger," said Dr. Jonathan Romeo, an allergist in Raleigh, N.C., who heads the ACAAI's Asthma Committee.
This link isn't surprising, he said.
"Any physical exertion has the potential to cause an asthma attack," said Romeo, who was not involved in the new study.
If you have asthma, discuss potential triggers, including sex, with your partner, he advised.
"If the attacks still occur despite the use of your traditional prevention and control therapies, talk to your allergist about what else you can do," Romeo said. "It's a sensitive topic so most people just glaze over it, but having an open conversation with your allergist can help."
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more about exercise-induced asthma.
SOURCES: Ariel Leung, MD, chief internal medicine resident, Saint Agnes Medical Center, Fresno, Calif.; Jonathan Romeo, DO, allergist, Raleigh, N.C., and chairman, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Asthma Committee (ACAAI); presentation, ACAAI meeting, Louisville, Ky., Nov. 10, 2022