Toddler in puberty after exposure to dad's testosterone gel

Aabha Gopan

Whenever Erica Brownsell took her two-year-old child, Barnabay, out to play, other parents would ask why her child was still drinking from a baby bottle because of how muscular and tall he was. Once, a stranger commented, “He looked like a little man.” She said some people even called him "Viking" or "Samson" because of his muscular appearance.

But Erica understood its seriousness only when she saw pubic hair around her two-year-old son's sex organ. “I knew it wasn’t normal. He would have massive, sustained erections and his height and weight were off the charts,” said Erica Brownsell.

When the family consulted a doctor, he was baffled. Upon conducting a blood test, they realized that the testosterone level (a male sex hormone) was high in the boy. The doctors conducted further tests and ruled out congenital disorder, a condition affecting the adrenal glands, and endocrine tumors.

"Nobody seemed to know what was going on," said Erica.

That's when one of the doctors suggested that the child may have been exposed to artificial testosterone treatment - which is actually meant for adults. When they inquired with the family, it was revealed that the boy's father, Peter, was born with a complex testicular condition and had been using testosterone gel as part of his treatment.

According to Brownsell, her husband used a product named Testogel in the UK to help with his testosterone deficiency.

How did the father's testosterone gel trigger physical maturity in his son?

Dr. Benjamin Udoka Nwosu, a senior pediatrician, said that the absorption of testosterone gel is never complete. "There's some testosterone left on the skin, even hours after the application," he said.

"Family members and other individuals who have close contact with the male patient are at risk of direct exposure," he continued.

And he added that long exposure to the gel could be particularly dangerous for children because they will be entering puberty earlier than other children their age. The symptoms include hair growth in the pubic area, acne region, and oversized reproductive organs.

Brownsell said that she and her husband took turns caring for their child when the other worked. Peter usually watched the child when she went out to work in the morning. He used to apply the gel during the morning time.

Dr. Hulse said that he was 99.9% sure that the reason behind Barnaby's early puberty was the hormone treatment gel that his father used.

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