Oligospermia, or a lower sperm count, occurs when there about 15 to 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen after an ejaculation. A normal sperm count usually ranges from 40 to 300 million per milliliter. Although a low sperm count may make it harder for a man to impregnate a partner naturally, the actual health and function of the sperm may not be affected, meaning that some treatments—like artificial insemination—are very successful once the sperm reaches an egg.
A man’s sperm count can be affected by a number of medicines, diseases, environmental circumstances, and lifestyle choices. For instance, SSRIs, steroids, and alpha blockers are just a couple of medicines that could affect sperm count. Because the hormone testosterone helps produce sperm, diseases that lower testosterone—like COPD, kidney disease, diabetes, etc.–can all cause a low count.
Some men may be completely healthy or off of medication but still have a low count due to their home or work surroundings. For instance, exposure to pesticides, radiation, or organic solvents can certainly have a negative effect. If a man enjoys recreational drugs, then those chemicals can damage sperm DNA.
If a man has already been diagnosed with an illness, like kidney disease, or a genetic disorder, like Klinefelter syndrome, then a low sperm count will actually be a symptom for that specific condition. However, if a man isn’t previously diagnosed with a condition, then signs that can indicate a low sperm count include pain or lumps in the testicular region, a low sex drive, little body hair, poor muscle tone, a history of prostate or testicular issues, ejaculation difficulties, and osteoporosis.
Even if a man decides he doesn’t want to father a child, it is still recommended he seek out treatment—low-sperm symptoms could be indicative of another underlying condition. Taking testosterone pellets, patches, or creams is a common treatment route if other conditions have been ruled out. If a man’s sperm are relatively healthy despite a low count, he can try in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI).