Men's flu: do men suffer more when they have a cold?

 Men's flu: do men suffer more when they have a cold?

The alleged men's flu is often the subject of jokes and ridicule. The term is mostly used to make fun of men when they have a cold or runny nose and in some cases appear more plaintive than women. But is the men's flu really just a myth? In this article we look at the scientific background of men's cold: do men actually suffer more when they have a cold and what could be the reason?

What is men's flu?

The male flu is also called the male cold and is the derisive name for a cold in men, which is said to be worse than in women. It is difficult to find an exact definition for the disorder that has been tricked into. In the Oxford English Dictionary, it is described as a "cold or similar mild illness" "occurring in a man whose presentation of the severity of symptoms is deemed to be exaggerated."

This means a harmless cold, the symptoms of which are presented like those of a serious illness. Women in particular like to amuse themselves about the clinical picture of the supposedly grouchy men.

However, some scientific studies have explored the real truth behind the phenomenon of male flu and have come up with some interesting results.

Do men suffer more from the flu?

A 2012 South Korean study of swine flu, a form of flu that appeared for the first time in 2009, examined the influence of gender on the course of the disease.1 The proportion of patients who had to be hospitalized for swine flu was not limited to older people increased, but especially in older male patients. In addition, almost 70 percent of people who had pneumonia due to the flu were male.

Men had to go to hospital more often than women, at least in old age, and suffered more often from pneumonia, which is a dangerous complication of infection with the virus.

Other studies on the annual flu (influenza, not to be confused with a flu-like infection, i.e. a cold) also provide similar results, according to which men are more seriously affected. A 2014 study from the US even showed that men were more likely to die of the flu

Does the flu shot work differently for men and women?

Vaccination against influenza can be carried out every year, preferably in autumn. The flu vaccine contains dead viruses, i.e. viruses that can no longer multiply, or parts of viruses. The immune system of the vaccinated person should react to the vaccination by producing antibodies, i.e. defensive substances, against the injected substance. In the event of subsequent contact with the living influenza virus, the immune system is already armed and knows directly how to react.

A 2013 study showed that women responded better to vaccination.3 However, higher levels of testosterone, the sex hormone in men, were linked to a weakened immune response to the vaccine. However, this immune response, in which the antibodies against influenza viruses are formed, is essential for the vaccinated person to be protected from the flu.

According to scientific evidence, testosterone appears to have an immunosuppressive effect. This means that a higher blood level of the hormone weakens the immune system, making it less responsive to pathogens.

On the other hand, estrogen, the woman's sex hormone, stimulates the immune system. This effect is particularly noticeable in women in the period before menopause (menopause). After menopause, women no longer get their periods, the production of estrogen decreases and with it the stimulation of the immune system.

Do women have better immune systems?

The flu vaccination study suggests that women, at least before menopause, might have a stronger immune system than men.

Another study from 2015 seems to confirm this and describes women as "immune-privileged" .4 The female sex hormone, estrogen, has a stimulating effect on the cells of the immune system, while testosterone seems to have exactly the opposite effect

Are men more sorry?

The term "men's flu" is primarily associated with a wailing man with a sniffling nose who spent days recovering from his cold on the sofa. However, a 1998 study showed otherwise

This study examined whether men and women see their general practitioner when they have a cold and how they behave when they are sick. Contrary to the picture of the grouchy man, it was shown that women with cold symptoms reduce their activities much faster than men.

Whether women act sensibly by taking care of themselves earlier and recovering quickly, or whether, contrary to the clich├ęd image of the male flu, they are possibly more sorry than men, is probably a question of interpretation.

Does a cold actually last longer in men?

Another study looked at how long a viral respiratory disease lasts for each gender.6 In fact, according to this study, men on average take twice as long to recover as women. While the female patients only needed a day and a half to get well again, the male participants needed three days.

This study also supports the hypothesis that men could suffer from a cold more and longer than women.

Possible reasons for the differences

The studies listed allow the conclusion that the man's sex hormone is to blame for longer and worse colds and flu. However, this does not have to be the only explanation for the differences found.

Statistics on global tobacco consumption show that more men than women smoke regularly.7 Smoking damages the respiratory tract and is therefore an independent risk factor, which is why more severe and more frequent respiratory diseases can be observed in smokers than in non-smokers.

According to another publication, men should go to the doctor less often than women when they are ill or for preventive measures.8 This gives women better medical control, which has a positive effect on their health. Regular check-ups ensure that possible diseases are treated well. After all, smoking isn't just a risk factor for worse respiratory diseases. Badly controlled diabetes mellitus or other chronic illnesses can also weaken the immune system and thus increase the risk of worse disease progression.

It can therefore be assumed that it is not only the sex hormones that are responsible for the health differences between men and women.

Why men suffer more from respiratory diseases

According to the study results, potential health problems of the male sex can be attributed to the following five reasons:

The man's sex hormone has an immunosuppressive effect, i.e. it suppresses the body's defenses.

Men are more likely to smoke than women, which increases the likelihood of respiratory infections.

Men go to the doctor less often when they are ill.

Men tend to take it easy later than women when symptoms appear.

Men respond worse to the flu shot.

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