Smartphones are assuming an increasingly large role in most people’s lives. If you have a curiosity about a certain subject, chances are good that there’s an app that will help you explore it.
This is the case with certain apps that are related to male fertility. Specifically, apps that are designed to perform semen analysis are gaining in popularity with men who have concerns about their fertility. In fact a study was recently published suggesting home semen analysis kits may be useful in screening patients with low sperm counts. While these results are interesting, they should be interpreted with some caution.
For instance, it is worthwhile to consider that while apps may be able to calculate a relatively accurate estimate of sperm count, other factors are ignored. Sperm quality and sperm morphology simply cannot be determined by a smartphone app. While the measurement of sperm motility is useful to the man who is concerned about his fertility, it is not the only metric that must be examined.
Austin Fertility reproductive urologist Dr. Luke Machen notes regarding apps and other home semen analysis kits, “These are relatively new technology where men may approximate their sperm concentrations as a screen for fertility. Manufacturers hope to increase male partner engagement in fertility workups, which is a laudable goal. However, while intriguing, the kits are not without their pitfalls. The kits may lead to men with ‘normal’ sperm concentrations not seeking a formal fertility evaluation, when in fact other semen parameters, such as semen volume and total sperm counts, may be low.”
A man who uses such a phone app and learns that the number of motile sperm in his semen is within normal ranges may be less likely to seek the help of a qualified fertility specialist. This may be an issue because other considerations like sperm morphology or sperm quality may be affecting the couple’s ability to conceive.
Other problems with in-home semen analysis using an app relate to quality control. Dr. Machen states, “It is difficult, if not impossible, for the rigorous lab conditions necessary for accurate semen analysis to be replicated in the home. The outcome maybe unreliable results that do not move the couple any closer to their goal of conceiving.”
Critical in a male fertility work is that it is not just a semen analysis – a history, physical, and frequently lab work are also necessary for a full evaluation.
As with all medical testing, careful collection and handling of the test material are essential to accurate outcomes. Obtaining reliable results from a lab setting requires that the man refrains from sex or masturbation for between two and five days before the sample is collected. The sample must then be tested within one hour. Factors such as semen hyperviscosity and incomplete liquefaction also may play a role. In a clinic and lab setting, each of these variables can be controlled and managed, something that is virtually impossible to do elsewhere.
While some male fertility smartphone apps may be able to provide initial insight, they are not a substitute for rigorous laboratory testing. Formal semen analysis by a medical professional involves the careful examination of all components of the sample or samples to ensure accurate data that may be used to help a couple achieve their goal of conceiving.
Dr. Machen concludes that while home semen analysis kits should not replace a full fertility evaluation and a formal semen analysis, an intriguing future use of these kits could be in the post-vasectomy setting to prove azoospermia once home semen analysis can provide that detection.