Men who have atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) may have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) than men who don't, a new study finds.
The researchers suggest that doctors "be more attentive to sexual complaints" from men with this condition. But an allergy expert not involved in the study said that while the findings are "interesting", there are too many limitations to know whether eczema actually raises the risk of ED.
"More studies are needed to confirm that atopic dermatitis alone may be a cause of ED," Dr Donald Leung, an allergist/immunologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, said.
Some past studies have found that men with certain inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis, have a higher rate of ED than other men. For the new study, Dr Shiu-Dong Chung and colleagues at Taipei Medical University looked at whether there might be a link between eczema and ED.
Using insurance claims data, they identified 3 997 men with newly diagnosed ED, and nearly 20 000 men the same age with no known history of ED. Almost 11% of men with ED had had eczema before the impotence diagnosis. By comparison, just under 7% of men without ED had a history of eczema, the authors report.
After adjustment for other factors – including diabetes and heart disease – men with ED were 60% more likely to have a history of eczema than were men without sexual problems. The findings appeared online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Exactly what they mean is unclear.
One question is why skin diseases like psoriasis or eczema would be linked to ED. It's possible, according to Dr Chung's team, that the underlying inflammation of the diseases is to blame. But the study had a number of limitations, as Dr Leung pointed out.
One is that it relied on administrative claims, which may not be accurate. And it's not clear whether the men had eczema at the time of the ED diagnosis, or at some point years earlier, Dr Leung said.
And the researchers themselves acknowledge that they had no information on men's lifestyle habits or family history. Some of those factors might help account for the connection between eczema and ED.
Dr Leung also noted that any chronic health condition could potentially create "emotional stress" for a couple. "Future studies are recommended," Dr Chung's team writes, "both to replicate the results seen here and to clarify the mechanisms behind them."
Still, the researchers suggest that doctors ask men with eczema about their sexual function, as part of "routine holistic care". Dr Leung had a similar conclusion. "In any case," he said, "it is reasonable to conclude from this study that atopic dermatitis patients complaining of ED should be heeded."
None of the researchers on the work reports any financial conflicts of interest.
(Amy Norton, Reuters Health February 2012)