According to the myth of the so-called „man cold,“ when a man gets a cold, everything shuts down. They lie desperately on the couch, unwilling to do anything (not even go to the doctor). But a woman with a cold simply rebels and carries on.
„If a woman has a virus infection or a cold, she continues her daily activities and might tell a friend about it,“ explains psychology expert William Pollack, PhD. „Men will tend to get upset and feel like it’s a bother, or they might be angry or irritable because they have to deal with it.“
In essence, the „man cold“ refers to the idea that men cope worse with colds and flu than women. But is there any truth to it?
Some experts say that men and women may react differently to colds. „I’ve definitely seen it, but not to the epic proportions that some make it out to be,“ says Pollack.
The difference lies less in gender and more in personality, explains Dr. Robert L. Wergin, Chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians. „I certainly have a group of patients who are very in tune with their bodies and worry greatly about their health,“ he says. „So when they have a cold, they exacerbate it to some degree.“
These patients, Wergin says, tend to think that their symptoms mean something worse is going on. It’s a mix of men and women,“ he says.
But does the myth of the „man cold“ have a biological or scientific basis? Some studies suggest that men may experience more symptoms with a cold than women.
„Sex can have some influence on colds,“ says Dr. Kim Templeton, surgeon at the University of Kansas Hospital. „The female sex hormone estrogen slows down the replication of a virus, leading to fewer symptoms. Due to estrogen and the female body’s reaction to it, the flu virus may not spread as quickly in women. Studies have not shown whether the same is true for the cold virus.“
In addition, the part of the brain that controls body temperature is larger in men due to testosterone, which could lead to higher fever in men than in women, says Templeton. But the research is not clear, she warns.
But these things may not have a significant impact.
„The way men and women respond to infectious diseases, there is not a major difference between a male and female response,“ says Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, Chair of the Department of Medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital.
According to Pollack, cultural factors play a major role in the idea of the „man cold.“ In the past, men were taught to believe they had to be „infinitely capable and never fail,“ explains Pollack. „So when we get an illness, we make a big deal out of it because it feels like a big deal. It causes more distress because we are supposed to be infallible.“
In other words, a man has to think that his cold is very close to death, otherwise it shouldn’t bother him. „But of course, it does bother him,“ says Pollack.
Fortunately, many men abandon this mindset, says Pollack.