The “Man Flu”: Is It Real?

Dr. Angela Seabright
Allison Schmuecker

| 2 min read

Young adult male and female sitting on the couch blowing their nose
Have you heard of a “man cold” or the “man flu?” It’s the idea that, when ill, men experience worse symptoms than women. For some men, having a cold can be debilitating and disrupt day-to-day activities. Yet, their female counterparts are more likely to push through.
Is the man flu an exaggeration or a legitimate medical condition?
Societal history:
This condition may stem from archaic gender roles. Throughout time, men have been raised to believe they must be invincible and untouched by pain. Therefore, if they become sick, it’s a shock to the system. In fact, research found that early males required longer rest periods during an illness to conserve energy and avoid predators.
Biological differences:
Certain studies suggest women tend to experience fewer cold symptoms than men. This may be due to estrogen, the female sex hormone that also slows down virus progression. In general, women are believed to have a much stronger immune system.
For men, the area of the brain that regulates body temperature is larger due to the presence of testosterone. This could explain why they’re prone to experiencing higher fevers. Testosterone can also inhibit crucial vaccines by lowering one’s antibody response—making men more susceptible to infectious disease.
What we do know:
Although flu cases tend to rise in the fall, you can get sick at any time. That’s why it’s imperative to take necessary precautions. Constantly wash your hands and disinfect your home, car, desk or any other high traffic area. But most importantly, get a flu shot. Individuals who receive the vaccine are 40%-60% less likely to contract influenza.
Is it possible for a cold or flu to appear differently in men and women? Perhaps. Despite the biological and societal factors, more research is required to draw a more formal conclusion.
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Photo credit: PeopleImages

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