“If a woman has a viral infection or cold, so to speak, she’ll go on with her day’s activities and maybe mention it to a friend,” says psychology expert William Pollack, PhD, explaining the stereotype. “Men will fuss about it and feel like it’s getting in their way, or be angry or irritable that they have to deal with it.”
Put simply, the “man cold” refers to the idea that men handle colds and the flu worse than women.
But is there any truth to the myth?
Symptoms: His vs. Hers
Experts say men and women may, in fact, respond differently to colds.
“I’ve definitely seen it, but not to such epic proportions as some make it sound,” Pollack says.
The difference is less about gender and more about personality, explains Robert L. Wergin, MD, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians board of directors.
“I certainly have a group of patients that are very in tune with their bodies and have lots of concerns about their health, he says. “So when they have a cold, they magnify it to some degree.”
These patients, Wergin says, tend to think that their symptoms mean something worse is going on. They might have a minor cold, but they’re worried it’s pneumonia.
“It’s a mix of men and women,” he says.
The man cold might have some biological truth to it. Some studies say men may have more symptoms than women when they have a cold.
“Regarding colds, there may be some impact of sex,” says Kim Templeton, MD, a surgeon at the University of Kansas Hospital. Templeton has done extensive studies on gender differences in health.
The female sex hormone estrogen slows down how fast a virus multiplies, Templeton says. This may lead to fewer symptoms. The flu virus may not spread as quickly in women because of estrogen and how the female body reacts to it. Studies have not shown if the same thing applies to the cold virus.