Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve and maintain an erection. It’s a condition that not many men feel comfortable talking about, but they should. Erectile dysfunction isn’t only common, but it can also usually be treated.

Treatments for erectile dysfunction are effective and evolving. Traditional oral medications can help, and drugs that you apply directly to the skin are being developed.

Currently, there isn’t a gel or other topical drug approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ED. Topical ED treatments are still in development.

You may have heard of the topical testosterone drug called AndroGel. However, AndroGel is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ED specifically, and it’s not meant to be used on the genitals.

Rather, Androgel is approved to help increase levels of testosterone in some men who have abnormally low testosterone levels. It’s possible for erectile function to improve in men who take it who have ED related to abnormally low testosterone levels. But this gel wouldn’t help men whose ED is caused by factors other than low testosterone levels.

For more information about the proper use of topical testosterone drugs, read about Axiron and Androgel for low testosterone.

Vasodilators help relax blood vessels to improve blood flow. Alprostadil is a vasodilator that treats ED effectively for many men.

To treat ED in the United States, alprostadil is currently only available in an injectable form or urethral suppository, which is a pellet that you insert into the opening of your penis. Injecting or inserting the drug directly into your penis can cause bleeding, bruising, and scarring.

In other countries, a topical cream of alprostadil for ED has already been developed. This cream hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA and is still undergoing testing in the United States. Results of one study reported that the cream helped improve erectile function with few side effects in most men. Another study reported that mixtures of topical vasodilators were effective for many men with ED. These mixtures have also been found to cause minimal side effects, if any.

Before prescribing treatment, your doctor will want to make sure no underlying conditions are causing your ED. If they are, they can usually be treated. If not, you still have good options for treating ED directly.

Oral medications are helpful for many people. These drugs include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). They work by acting on the chemical nitric oxide and they improve blood flow to your penis.

To learn more about these drugs and what to expect, read about medication and supplements for ED.

Many medical options are available for treating ED, but simple lifestyle changes can also help. In many cases, ED results from a combination of unhealthy behaviors rather than from a single cause. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and alcohol use can all contribute to erectile dysfunction.

The following lifestyle changes may help improve erectile function:

  • quitting or refraining from smoking
  • decreasing the amount of alcohol you drink
  • eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • getting regular exercise

ED occurs from time to time in almost all men. It’s generally nothing to worry about. However, dysfunction can cause stress, a loss of confidence, and relationship tension. Most often, ED can be treated, so it’s important to speak openly with your doctor about all symptoms you have. For now, oral medications and lifestyle changes are the best options for resolving ED. Topical ED treatments are in development and may be available in the future.