February 1, 2021

How Sinus Problems Can Affect Your Sex Life — and What to Do About It

There's hope for chronic nasal and sinus problems that don't put you in the mood

woman in bed wtih sinus problems

“I’ve got a headache.” “I’m too tired.” “I’m not feeling that great.”


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The reason you might not be in the mood for intimacy i​sn’t always just how you’re feeling physically. But it can certainly start there. These statements are very true for a lot of couples.

You can also add “I’m too stuffed up” to the list of reasons not to be intimate with your partner.

Studies by Cleveland Clinic ear, nose and throat specialists found that allergic rhinitis (hayfever) and chronic rhinosinusitis significantly affect the desire for sex.

And considering that up to 40% of the U.S. population has allergic rhinitis and 30 to 40 million people have chronic rhinosinusitis, 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 chronic rhinosinusitis, inflammation also attacks your sinuses and causes discolored drainage, congestion and facial pressure. There are multiple causes, including infection, allergies and other environmental irritants.

Not ideal conditions to get you in the mood.

According to ear, nose and throat specialist Michael Benninger, MD, there are many reasons these conditions affect the desire for sex.


“People with these symptoms do not feel well, are often chronically fatigued and may not sleep very well on top of their other symptoms,” he says.

As a result, they don’t feel sexy — which can also cause a decrease in their desire to engage in sexual activity.

“Even the simple act of kissing is not perceived as pleasant with a stuffy or drippy nose,” he says. “When you’re experiencing these symptoms, getting physical in any way is likely the last thing you want to do.”

The sensual side of smell

It’s also true that if 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,” Dr. Benninger says.

“But if you can’t breathe, you can’t smell — because the air that contains particles that smell familiar or arousing to you can’t get into your nose,” he adds.

Restoring your desire is possible

The good news is that treating the symptoms of allergic rhinitic and chronic rhinosinusitis does appear to improve sexual activity. Both conditions can be treated with a variety of medications including:

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

If you think you have allergies, getting an allergy test is important so you can not only medically treat the allergies, but you can also work to avoid them. This can be done with traditional skin testing or a simple blood test.


Allergic rhinitis is rarely treated surgically. Chronic rhinosinusitis can be however. The surgery is typically minimally invasive and performed through an endoscope — a lighted tube through which guide the use of slender instruments — so that no external incisions are needed.

Dr. Benninger also led a study that showed dramatic improvements in patients’ sex lives after surgery.

“Before surgery, 33% of patients said chronic rhinosinusitis affected their desire some of the time, and 9% said all the time. After surgery this dropped to 19% and 1%,” he says.

“The path to more intimacy in your life can often come from making a decision to treat the symptoms that are making you feel uncomfortable first,” he adds. “You’ll feel better, sleep better, even smell better — meaning you can begin to engage your sense of smell more normally again. This can lead you to feeling better psychologically about your intimate situations.”

Don’t forget that speaking openly and communicating your needs or concerns with your partner should also be part of moving towards healthier intimacy together.

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