Men who have the allergic skin condition eczema may have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction than other men, according to a study.
Though the study of several thousand men with erectile dysfunction (ED), which appeared in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, addressed a link, researchers said more study is needed and it is still too soon to confirm that eczema alone can cause impotence.
"There was an association between ED and prior atopic dermatitis," wrote lead researcher Shiu-Dong Chung and colleagues at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan. Atopic dermatitis is the medical term for eczema.
"Future studies are recommended, both to replicate the results seen here and to clarify the mechanisms behind them."
It's well known that some chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, are connected to a higher risk of erectile dysfunction, perhaps due to dysfunction in the blood vessels and nerves.
Some past studies have also found that men with certain inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis, have a higher rate of erectile dysfunction than other men.
Chung and colleagues looked through insurance claims data on 3,997 men with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction, and compared them with nearly 20,000 men the same age with no known history of erectile dysfunction.
Almost 11 percent of men with erectile dysfunction had eczema before the impotence diagnosis. By comparison, just under seven percent of men without erectile dysfunction had a history of eczema.
After the researchers weighed other factors, including health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, they found that men with erectile dysfunction were 60 percent more likely to have a history of eczema than men without ED.
What the findings mean is unclear.
One question is why skin diseases like eczema or psoriasis would be linked to erectile dysfunction. Chung's team said it's possible that the underlying inflammation of the diseases, which may affect blood vessels as well as the skin, is to blame.
Allergy expert Donald Leung, an allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, said the results were "interesting" but the study had limitations.
One is that it relied on administrative claims, which may not be accurate. It was also not clear whether the men had eczema at the time of the erectile dysfunction diagnosis or at some point years earlier, said Leung, who did not take part in the study.
"More studies are needed to confirm that atopic dermatitis alone may be a cause of ED," Leung told Reuters Health in an email, noting that any chronic health condition potentially creates emotional stress for a couple.
Chung and his team agreed, acknowledging that they had no information on the men's lifestyle habits or family history, and some of those factors could help account for the connection between eczema and impotence.
Still, they suggested that doctors ask men with eczema about their sexual function, as part of "routine holistic care."