By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Men who have the allergic skin condition eczema may have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction than other men, a new study finds.
The study, of nearly 4,000 Taiwanese men with ED, hints at a connection between eczema and impotence.
And the researchers suggest that doctors "be more attentive to sexual complaints" from men with eczema -- known medically as atopic dermatitis.
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, told Reuters Health in an email.
It's well known that some chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, are connected to a higher ED risk. That's thought to be related to dysfunction in the blood vessels and nerves.
And some past studies have found that men with certain inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis, have a higher rate of ED than other men.
So 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.
The researchers combed through insurance claims data on 3,997 men with newly diagnosed ED, and compared them with nearly 20,000 men the same age with no known history of ED.
Chung's team found that almost 11 percent of men with ED had had eczema before the impotence diagnosis. By comparison, just under seven percent of men without ED had a history of eczema.
After the researchers weighed other factors -- including health problems like diabetes and heart disease -- they found that men with ED were 60 percent more likely to have a history of eczema than were men without sexual problems.
The findings appear 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 Chung's team, that the underlying inflammation of the diseases -- which may affect not only the skin, but also blood vessels -- is to blame.
But the study had a number of limitations, 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, 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.
Leung also noted that any chronic health condition could potentially create "emotional stress" for a couple.
"Future studies are recommended," 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."
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.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/yI9DBP Journal of Sexual Medicine, online January 12, 2012.