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The Truth About 'Man Colds'

Is the 'man cold' myth or reality?

He Says, She Says continued...

Her husband, Paul Burkett, a lawyer, admits that he acts cranky and complains a lot more when he has a cold. "My coping skills are diminished when my body is under attack," he says. "When Tracy gets sick, she lets me know, but she soldiers on much better than I do."

He's not sure why men might act this way, but suggests one reason. "Maybe we feel like we can actually get away with complaining because it's obvious you're sick," he says. "That gives you carte blanche to go ahead and let it all out."

Terry Bruce Burkett, a retired Navy veteran in Austin, Texas (and Paul's uncle), responded to Tracy's blog post: "I am one of those ‘men' that when I don't feel good, I generally let everyone around me know all about it. I don't consider myself a big baby or a habitual whiner. It's just a fact and I don't mind letting that out. No use going ‘round playing like everything is all peachy keen when it ain't!"

Why Do Men Act This Way?

In general, men are not used to talking about their inner states and expressing if they are feeling happy or hot, says Jean Berko Gleason, PhD, professor emerita of Psychology at Boston University.

"Men are less in touch with their feelings," she says, "so it might be more difficult for them to interpret what's going on when they are overwhelmed or sick."

Gleason points out that societal expectations may perpetuate this pattern. "Women aren't supposed to fall apart when they have a cold," she says. "So men who are needing some nurturing might take advantage of that on occasions when they aren't feeling well to get some care and love from the people around them."

But Gleason warns against stereotyping. "In general, the differences between the sexes are less than we think," she says. "We admire everybody who is brave, but the social pressures on men and boys are much greater."

When It's More Than a Cold

It's important to take flu symptoms, like a high fever and persistent cough, seriously, particularly during this H1N1 swine flu season. "We've seen healthy people succumb to very serious influenza infections, even the fellow who plays basketball three times a week," Schaffner says.

If you suspect that your guy may have a bad case of influenza, as opposed to the common cold, "he ought to be urged not to ‘tough it out' but to seek medical attention," Schaffner says.

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Reviewed on December 03, 2009

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