Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Having allergies can take a toll on your sex life, new research shows.
When polled, 83 percent of people with allergic rhinitis said it affected their sexual activity at least sometimes, with almost 18 percent of those affected saying their allergies nearly always got in the way of a satisfying sex life.
"I was kind of surprised that it made that much of a difference," said study author Dr. Michael Benninger, chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Commercials for allergy relief products tend to focus on helping people get back to enjoying an active lifestyle, such as taking their kids to the park, Benninger said. Rarely is there mention of sex lives, and that could be because it's an area that has been studied so little, he noted.
Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, affects 10 to 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to the researchers. Symptoms include a runny nose, congestion and sinus pressure. Those affected are reacting to indoor or airborne allergens such as pollens and dust mites.
Benninger's team also found that allergic rhinitis was linked with sleep problems, which other studies have found as well. The study was published recently in Allergy and Asthma Proceedings.
The researchers polled about 700 people, roughly half with allergic rhinitis, asking questions about sexual function, sleep and fatigue. The participants averaged in their late 30s to mid-40s, and those with allergic rhinitis were not being treated for their allergies.
Though about 17 percent of those with allergic rhinitis said they always or almost always noticed an adverse impact on their sex life, just 5 percent of those who did not have the condition said their sex life wasn't good.
Exactly why the allergies affect sexual functioning isn't certain, but Benninger suspects that the runny nose, itchy eyes and other symptoms can make a person feel less than sexy.
Those with allergic rhinitis were also more likely to have sleep problems.
The study definitely sheds light on a new area, said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital/State University of New York and a clinical instructor at New York University School of Medicine. "Sexual function is not something typically evaluated [with allergies]," he said.
But the finding makes sense to Bassett, based on what patients report to him. "If people have a runny, drippy nose and feel unsexy, they might be embarrassed by what would be normal intimate contact," he said.
But the condition can be treated, both Bassett and Benninger stressed. From over-the-counter nasal sprays to prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines and prescription intranasal steroids, options abound.
The message to allergy sufferers, Benninger said, is not to confine lovemaking to times when their symptoms aren't so bad but to seek treatment that can help them feel better much of the time. Paying attention to allergy triggers and, for instance, closing bedroom windows so pollen levels are at a minimum can help, too.
Bassett also said he hopes the study will wake up those with allergy symptoms whose sex life is less than ideal. "I think it's essential for patients to realize that help is out there," he said. "They don't need to be a casualty in the lovemaking department."
SOURCES: Clifford Bassett, M.D., clinical assistant professor, medicine, Long Island College Hospital/State University of New York, and clinical instructor, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Michael Benninger, M.D., otolaryngologist and chairman, Head and Neck Institute, Cleveland Clinic; July/August 2009, Allergy and Asthma Proceedings