Sex stops a runny nose?

Dear Alice,

I have a question for you about sex that may seem a little silly. I had a cold recently with a badly running nose. My boyfriend and I started having sex. While we were having sex, my nose stopped running completely. After we were done, my nose started running again. Do you know the reason for this?

— Sniffling

Dear Sniffling,

There are a couple reasons your nose may have stopped running during sex. When you become sick with something like the common cold, small blood vessels in your nose may become swollen and irritated due to inflammation, which results in nasal congestion. This can create difficulty breathing and excess mucus, causing your nose to run. If you were in a prone, horizontal position during sex, meaning you were lying on your stomach, gravity may have caused the reduction in nasal drip. In addition, the hormones released during sex may also reduce swelling in your blood vessels, which would temporarily reduce your symptoms. Read on for more about how sex can provide temporary relief from a runny nose!

It’s most likely that your nose stopped running temporarily because of the effects of adrenaline, a hormone also known as epinephrine. Just like when you experience stress or fear, or are engaged in any physical activity such as exercise, sexual arousal activates the sympathetic nervous system. This then triggers the release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland and causes the blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow to your muscles. As a result, the mucous membranes in your nose shrink, reducing the inflammation in your blood vessels and temporarily relieving nasal congestion. In this way, the adrenaline produced by sexual activity acts as a temporary natural decongestant.

However, once physical activity is over and the body starts to relax, the parasympathetic system reactivates and your adrenaline levels will start to recede. As a result, your symptoms will likely return after about 45 minutes to an hour. So while having sex may not cure your runny nose, the temporary reprieve can be a happy surprise.

If you're looking for a more long-lasting method to stop your runny nose, though, you may want to invest in some cold medicine. You could also try using a nasal steroid or decongestant spray, or taking oral antihistamines. Lastly, getting plenty of rest is key for recovering from any kind of sickness, including the common cold. This is because, while you sleep, your immune system is able to produce molecules called cytokines, which ultimately regulate immunity and inflammation. So, while it may not be as fun as doing the deed, making sure you get enough sleep and downtime can also help to relieve congestion by regulating your immunity and helping you kick that cold.

Sending sniffle-free wishes,

Last updated Jul 15, 2022
Originally published Mar 09, 1995

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