Sex and Your Sinuses: ‘Not Tonight, Honey’

Chronic nasal and sinus problems can slow down your sex life — but there’s hope

Woman with sinus pain

“I’ve got a headache.” “I’m too tired.” You can add “My head is too stuffy” to the list of reasons not to be intimate with your partner.

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Two previous studies by Cleveland Clinic ear, nose and throat specialists found that allergic rhinitis and chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) significantly affect the desire for sex. Considering that up to 40 percent of the U.S. population has allergic rhinitis and that 30 to 40 million people have CRS, this could be an enormous shock to Cupid — especially during allergy seasons.

Not in the mood, and here’s why

Allergic rhinitis means chronic inflammation, with swelling and itching of the nasal passages typically caused by dust, pollen or dander allergies. The result: a runny, stuffy nose. In CRS, inflammation attacks the sinuses as well, causing discolored drainage, congestion and facial pressure. There are multiple causes for CRS, including infection, allergies and other environmental irritants.

According to Michael Benninger, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Head & Neck Institute and lead author of the previous studies, there are many reasons these conditions affect the desire for sex.

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“People do not feel well, are often chronically fatigued and do not sleep well. In addition, they do not feel sexy. Even a simple act such as kissing is not perceived as pleasant with a stuffy or drippy nose,” he says.

Moreover, when you can’t smell your partner, you may have more trouble becoming aroused. “The sense of smell has a conscious and unconscious role in sex. Pheromones play a role. So does the familiar smell of someone you love. Other scents, such as sweat, can trigger desire. But if you can’t breathe, you can’t smell, because air with particles that smell familiar or sexy can’t get into your nose,” Dr. Benninger explains.

Restoring desire

The good news is that improving the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and CRS appears to improve sexual activity. Both conditions can be treated with a variety of medications, including:

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  • Intranasal steroid sprays
  • Leukotriene modifiers (medications for allergies and asthma)
  • Nasal irrigation
  • Antibiotics
  • Systemic steroids
  • Allergy therapy (in allergic individuals)

Allergic rhinitis is rarely treated surgically. CRS can be, however. The surgery is typically minimally invasive, performed through an endoscope — a long, lighted tube through which slender instruments are passed — so that no external incisions are needed.

One of Dr. Benninger’s studies showed dramatic improvements in patients’ sex lives after surgery. “Before surgery, 33 percent of patients said CRS affected their desire some of the time, and 9 percent said all the time. After surgery, this dropped to 19 percent and 1 percent,” says Dr. Benninger.

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