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The Truth About 'Man Colds'

Is the 'man cold' myth or reality?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When Gina Gallo, a school librarian in Lacombe, La., gets sick, she can take care of herself. She gets her own medicine, makes her own food, and "deals with it," as she puts it. But when her fiancé gets a cold, she says he has "a complete system breakdown."

"The world stops and the whining is incessant," she says. "I am expected to bring him food, take care of him, and generally treat him like the baby that he is."

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Gallo's fiancé declined to talk with WebMD for this story. Their Mars-Venus situation may strike a nerve with anyone who's dealt with similar antics at home or watched the popular "Man Cold" video on YouTube.

With more than 4 million views to date, the humorous clip shows a groaning, couch-laden man who phones the paramedics for an emergency — his cold. They promptly administer assistance and scold his wife, who is also sick, for not understanding the gravity of the situation: "For God's sake, woman. He's a man. He has a man cold."

Coined in the U.K., "man cold" or "man flu" is a tongue-in-cheek expression to describe a man's way of dealing with the common cold. For instance, men who are sick may hole up under the covers sniffling for sympathy and insisting that it's "more than a cold," while women who are sick will carry on with their daily routine.

Although this sardonic portrayal of the "man cold" is played for laughs, is there any truth to this characterization of the sexes? In other words, do men and women respond to colds differently?

'Man Cold' Debunked

There's nothing in the medical literature to back up any difference in men's and women's colds, says William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

But men are less likely than women to seek medical advice when they are sick.

Researchers at England's University of Glasgow studied nearly 1,700 people and found that men were more likely than women to overrate their common cold symptoms. The researchers theorized that men and women have different thresholds for perceiving and reporting symptoms, rather than actual differences in symptoms.

That is, their cold symptoms were the same. But men and women responded differently to those symptoms.

He Says, She Says

After a long, exhausting day of work and taking care of the kids, Tracy Hahn-Burkett, a writer in Bow, N.H., was already fed up by the time her husband informed her he had caught the family bug.

When she asked him why he snapped at their daughter, he responded with a growl: "I don't feel good, alright? I'm sick, alright?"

On her blog "Uncharted Parent," Hahn-Burkett writes: "Why is it that for a man, the onset of a head cold is just one degree short of ‘The End of The World?' To my beloved husband and the rest of you wonderful gentlemen out there — and you know who you are — it's a cold. It sucks, but you'll live. Why is this so traumatic?"

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