Tips for Handling COPD Complications

If you or your partner is living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you may be wondering what effect COPD will have on your sexuality. Will sex be possible? Will it be sure? Satisfactory?

Symptoms of COPD like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath will almost certainly change the way you and your partner express yourself sexually. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to sex or other forms of physical intimacy.

Of course, good sex isn’t automatic when COPD is in the picture. To get it right, it’s essential to talk about sex with your partner (or, if you’re single, with potential partners).

“I tell my patients to bring it up openly and directly,” says Robert A. (Sandy) Sandhaus, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the National Hospital of Jewish Health in Denver and member of the Medical Advisory Board and COPD scientist. Foundation. “Starting the conversation is often the most important step – and the biggest difficulty to overcome.”


If you don’t feel comfortable having a face-to-face conversation, consider reaching out to your partner or potential partner by phone or mail. Be clear about what you want and expect from sex, ask what your partner wants and expects, and do your best to agree on the steps you will take together to overcome any sexual issues that arise.

Here are nine helpful strategies for sex and intimacy when you have COPD:

1. Get in shape

Not sure whether you or your partner has the stamina for sex? Increasing your fitness regimes could prove to be helpful.

Perhaps it would be helpful to initiate a walking or gentle exercise program. It might be a good idea to join – or join – the pulmonary rehabilitation program at a local hospital.

“Rehabilitation programs aren’t limited to people newly diagnosed with COPD,” says COPD specialist Teresa T. Goodell, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “They are for anyone who needs to develop their exercise tolerance. They provide a safe place to exercise and help show people with COPD that it is safe to exercise. “

Rehabilitation programs typically meet once or twice a week for a maximum of six months.

2. Pick the right time

Good sex doesn’t have to spend a lot of energy. “The energy needs for sex are not that different from the energy needs for doing other things,” says Barbara Rogers, president and CEO of the Emphysema / COPD Association in New York City.

“If you can climb two flights of stairs or walk quickly, you can probably handle sex,” she says.

Yet people with COPD sometimes get tired during sex. To make sure you or your partner doesn’t poop, schedule sex for a time of day when the partner with COPD is feeling the most energetic.

Certainly, planning sex means giving up the spontaneity that often makes good sex. But asking for sex in the form of a flirtatious note can add a touch of excitement. Or you and your partner can wink at each other (or find another sign) to indicate that you want to “show up early.” Make sex planning an erotic game, not a chore.

3. Clear your room of irritants

Symptoms of COPD can be made worse by dust, pet dander, smoke, perfume, etc. Do whatever you can to rid the room of these lung irritants.

Dust, vacuum and wash sheets regularly. Consider using a HEPA air filter. And watch out for smelly cleaning products – especially bleach or ammonia – as their smells can trigger symptoms.

If deodorant or scented shampoo is a problem, consider switching to unscented varieties. If excessive mucus is causing problems, keep a box of tissues at the bedside. Nasal irrigation before sex can help, as can using a vibrating vest that relieves mucus.

4. Get a fan

Recent research has shown that a cool breeze on the face can help relieve the painful shortness of breath that people with COPD often experience during sex. Airflow can come from an open window or a fan.

“A simple electric fan can really help,” says Goodell. Likewise, keeping the bedroom cool helps prevent body heat build-up from adding to shortness of breath.

5. Take your medication before sex

The short-acting bronchodilators that many people with COPD use before exercise also help prevent coughing and shortness of breath during sexual activity. Doctors recommend taking an early dose about 15 minutes before sex.

“For most people, about two puffs are enough,” says Goodell. “It’s really a question of patients testing the waters and knowing what their answers are.”

To get rid of the unpleasant aftertaste that might distract you or offend your partner, rinse your mouth with a mouthwash containing alcohol after using the inhaler.

6. Consider using supplemental oxygen

If you or your partner find the supplemental oxygen helpful at other times, ask your doctor to use it during sexual activity.

“If you need to carry oxygen while walking, you will probably need to use it during sex,” says Sandhaus. The doctor might suggest increasing the flow of oxygen during sexual activity – to meet the body’s increased need for oxygen during exertion.

If the partner with COPD is not using supplemental oxygen but is wondering if it might help during sex, you can find out using an oximeter, a simple electronic device that the partner with COPD wears. at the tip of his finger. If the reading indicates that the oxygen saturation drops below 88%, using extra oxygen during sex might help.

Ask your doctor. Maybe they could lend you an oximeter. Otherwise, you can buy one for less than $ 50.

7. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Experiment with different sex positions to find the ones that work best for you and your partner. In general, positions that put pressure on the chest of the partner with COPD are more awkward than side-to-side (face-to-face and front-to-back) or sitting positions.

“For a man with COPD, the missionary position is probably the worst,” says Sandhaus. It might be helpful to use pillows for support or to support your partner. It might be better to give up the bed and have sex in a chair.

Also try different techniques and sexual aids. “It’s important that people try things, even if they were reluctant to try them before,” Goodell says. “It can be really beneficial to think of different ways of expressing sexuality that they have done or haven’t done in many years.”

8. Take a break

If at any time during sex the partner with COPD begins to feel short of breath, they should slow down or take a break to rest – although it is not necessary to stop giving and receiving drugs. caresses during the lull in action.

Keep in mind that it is normal to feel some shortness of breath during sex. According to Rogers, “People worry about shortness of breath, but shortness of breath during sex is no more dangerous than the shortness of breath they experience when doing daily activities.”

9. Remember your goal

Good sex isn’t just about giving and receiving orgasms. It’s a question of privacy. “The goal [for COPD patients and their partners] should be to have the most intimate experience possible, ”says Sandhaus. “Sometimes that means coming to orgasm, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Sometimes just lying down and cuddling is all a person with COPD can handle – and that may be enough to satisfy both partners. As Goodell says, “Running your hands through your partner’s hair can be an intimate act.”

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Jothi Venkat

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