Stuffy nose got you down? You might tap your medicine cabinet. Or, you could try going to bed instead — but not necessarily to nap. If your partner doesn’t mind a few sniffles, some intimate time together may offer a surprising benefit: temporary relief from nasal congestion.
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This potential effect of sexual activity works the same for men and women, says otolaryngologist Michael Benninger, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Head and Neck Institute.
How does it work?
The soft tissues of your nose contain a lot of blood vessels, called turbinates. These blood vessels work similarly to erectile and labial tissues in the genitals — they can swell. Swollen tissues in your nose can block your nasal passages, creating congestion and making it harder for you to breathe.
During arousal, your sympathetic nervous system — the one that activates your fight-or-flight response — kicks in. Just as when you exercise, your adrenaline levels go up and your blood vessels constrict.
Less blood flow to your nose means less inflammation, so your nose opens up and you can breathe more easily.
One annoying side effect is possible, though, Dr. Benninger says. As you get relief from your congestion, you might also get a runny nose. This can happen either during sexual activity or afterward, he says.
Will sex always relieve congestion?
The effect doesn’t always happen to the same degree, Dr. Benninger says.
If you have sex lying on your back, you won’t experience the same level of congestion relief. In that position, you don’t benefit from the effects of gravity nearly as much.
“When you’re lying down, gravity can’t pull against your congestion as strongly,” he says. “That’s why people have trouble breathing when they lie down to go to sleep at night.”
How long does relief last?
On average, you’ll have less congestion for between 45 minutes to an hour, Dr. Benninger says.
After orgasm, your parasympathetic system — the one that conserves your energy and slows your heart rate — begins to take over. At that point, your nose will start to slowly return to normal. And you’ll feel the congestion begin to return.
Other options to ease congestion
Of course, you don’t have to have sex to open your nose for easier breathing.
Medications are also an option, but use them sparingly, Dr. Benninger says. If you rely on them for too long, you’ll set yourself up for “rebound congestion.” The congestion will return whenever you stop using them, whether for allergies or a cold.
Alternative relief options include:
While medicine can offer you several hours of relief, it alleviates your discomfort in a far different way, Dr. Benninger says.
“I don’t think other methods to relieve congestion are nearly as much fun as sexual activity,” he says. “Plus, sex doesn’t come with a lot of side effects.”