Ragweed Is Bad for Your Sex Life

Ragweed and other seasonal allergies can leave you with more problems than a runny nose and itchy eyes. Here's how to cope.

August 30, 2010

Don't look now, but this year's fall allergies could be worse than ever.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you find the spring allergies hard to tolerate, we have bad news: Fall allergy season is, and will continue to be, just as bad, says Clifford Bassett MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and a member of the public-education committee at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "We've had lots and lots of precipitation this summer," he says, "and most areas of the U.S. have had record rainfalls. As a result we're going to have very healthy ragweed and a very robust ragweed allergy season." And while you may think you're just going to have to sacrifice a few nice days outdoors, Dr. Bassett has found that allergies can inflict other, subtler problems, such as a lack of sleep and a decreased sex drive.


THE DETAILS: For a study published in the journal Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, the authors surveyed 701 adults with allergic rhinitis, general allergies, or no allergy problems at all. Those who suffered from allergic rhinitis were the most likely of the three groups to report problems with sleep, fatigue, and sexual function. Of those with allergic rhinitis, 83 percent reported that their sexual activity was in some way affected by their allergies, 42 percent said that allergies "always" or "almost always" interfered with their sleep, and a slightly higher percentage said the allergies led to fatigue.

WHAT IT MEANS: Dr. Bassett says this study doesn't reveal whether there's a physiological response to allergies that leads to sleep problems and decreased sex drive, but it stands to reason that people feel less desirable when their noses are dripping and their eyes are puffy. "Most likely, it has something to do with feeling attractive or feeling self-conscious, which can affect the simple act of kissing somebody," he says. "And when you don't sleep well, you don't feel that interested in sexual activity."

If you suffer from a ragweed allergy, you may feel the effects more than ever this fall. In addition to excess precipitation's feeding ragweed, Dr. Bassett points to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finding that elevated greenhouse-gas levels in our atmosphere can cause ragweed to produce four times more pollen than normal, as well as pollen that's even more potent than it ordinarily would be. At the same time, he says, cities are opting for male trees rather than female trees in an effort to plant more trees to clean the air. And that can lead to more allergic agitation for people who have tree pollen allergies. "Male plants have less litter, twigs, and debris to clean up," he says, "but at the same time, they produce more pollen and increase allergy sensitization." It's all sort of a "perfect storm" of factors, as he calls it, that can make you miserable and sap your sex life, to boot.

Ragweed season lasts until late October. Follow this advice starting now to keep your ragweed allergy under control:

• Develop an "allergy action plan." "Allergy symptoms are very easy to control if you have a plan," says Dr. Bassett. Yet, most people don't see an allergist, assuming they can control the problem with over-the-counter medications. If you're really miserable, a visit to your allergist can be very helpful, he says, and most visits take less than 20 minutes. You can find an allergist at AsthmaAndAllergyRelief.org, where you can also take a test to determine whether you should see one or if your allergies are under control.

• Keep mites and furballs out of the bedroom. A recent study found that people who have indoor allergies, for instance, to pets or to dust mites, are more likely to suffer from hay fever. Therefore, simple steps that reduce your exposure to dust mites and pet dander, such as encasing your mattress and pillows in dust mite barriers, washing sheets in hot water to kill dust mites, and regularly vacuuming carpets and upholstery, can help reduce ragweed allergy and hay fever symptoms as well. If you can stand to exile your pets off from the bedroom, that can help, too.

• Plan around peak pollen times. You don't have to avoid the great outdoors, or shun fall leaf-looker trips, to avoid ragweed. Stay inside between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when ragweed pollen counts are highest, and visit Pollen.com to track days when ragweed pollen counts are high in your area. On days when levels peak, keep the windows in your home and your car rolled up. Also, wash your eyes and hair after spending time outdoors, says Dr. Bassett. Not line-drying sheets and towels outdoors can help. "In 90 to 94 percent of people who have symptoms, all of these environmental modifications, followed by medications or allergy injections, can help people achieve incredible remission of allergy symptoms," Dr. Bassett notes.

• Still suffering? Include these natural allergy remedies in your antiallergy action plan.

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