Mums, how many times have you been sick (felt like you were going to die really) but carried on with your daily chores without fussing? Now how many times has your partner got ‘man flu’ and not been able to even get out of bed to brush his teeth?
It’s easy to think that men are just exaggerating the severity of their symptoms when they have the flu, because, well, women’s pain thresholds are just worlds away compared to men’s.
However, it’s also worth investigating if men and women have different (or similar) viral respiratory symptoms. Is there an evolutionary basis to “man flu?” If it is proven different, this could have important implications for men’s health.
“Man flu:” Is it real?
At Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland, family medicine professor Dr. Kyle Sue sought to study “man flu.” Could it be because he’s a man and needed vindication? (Kidding. Or not, I don’t know.) He did state he was tired of being accused of overreacting to “man flu.”
Dr. Sue found, based on existing research, that several studies suggest men have a weaker immune response than women. For example, he points to a study on mice that suggested that testosterone can dampen the immune response to influenza while a few female sex hormones can boost it.
He also cited studies that found men with influenza have a higher chance of dying from the illness than women. The studies also said that women are more likely to be responsive to flu vaccines.
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Give man flu the benefit of the doubt
Interestingly, other research shows higher flu-related deaths in men compared to women in the same age group. Dr. Sue’s paper also noted data from Hong Kong that shows men are more likely to wind up in a hospital due to seasonal flu than women
Dr. Sue concluded that men have “worse symptoms, they last longer, they are more likely to be hospitalised and more likely to die from it.”
“There need to be more studies, higher quality studies that control for other factors between men and women before we can definitely say that this difference in immunity exists,” he said.
“Is it that women are more resilient, that they are able to juggle more when they are ill, or is it that they don’t have as severe symptoms? That we are not too sure about,” he said. “But I think everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt when they are ill.”
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“Dubious” man flu findings
He published his findings in the British Medical Journal though it’s also worth noting that Dr. Sue did not make any new findings. He also admitted that the studies he reviewed did not take into consideration the differences between men and women’s lifestyles.
This may include smoking and drinking habits, general health, diet, and other lifestyle choices. It also doesn’t take into account that men have been found to look after themselves in a poorer fashion than women. Men are also less likely to seek medical care.
Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier University, finds Dr. Sue’s paper dubious.
“There are a significant number of factors which can contribute to the severity of an influenza infection,” he said. “As the author of the article alludes, it is currently impossible to say whether there are sex-specific differences in susceptibility to influenza virus, or in the progression of the infection.”
How do we deal with this?
Still, we have to focus on solutions, not throw blame. You can follow these tips on how to deal with flu from Audra Kolesar, a registered nurse and manager with Health Links – Info Santé.
- Get lots of rest.
- Drink lots of fluids, such as water, fruit juice, tea, and soda.
- Try chicken soup. There is scientific evidence that it does help relieve cold symptoms.
- Use a humidifier to increase air moisture, especially in your bedroom.
- Use nose drops to relieve nasal congestion. You can buy nose drops or make your own. To make a solution for nose drops, add 5 ml (1 teaspoon) of salt to 500 ml (2 cups) of water.
- Soothe your throat. Gargling with salt water can temporarily soothe a sore throat. Use 1.5 to 2.5 ml (¼ to ½ teaspoon) of salt dissolved in 250 ml (1 cup) of water.
Call your healthcare provider or medical professional if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes (glands) in your neck
- Chest pain
- White or yellow spots on your tonsils or throat
- A cough that gets worse or becomes painful
- Temperature of 38.9° C (102° F) or higher that lasts more than two days
- Shaking chills
- Headache that lasts several days
- Blue or gray lips, skin, or nails
- Severe sinus pain
- Children three months and younger with any fever should see their health-care provider
- Signs of dehydration
- Fever for more than three days in a child older than two years of age
- Fever for more than 24 hours for a child less than two years of age
- Severe headache
- Difficulty breathing
- Ear pain
- Persistent cough
How to prevent flu
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According to Kolesar, there are two ways to go about preventing flu. The first is not to spread it around so you won’t get it back once you’ve fully recovered. You can take the following steps:
- Turn away from others and use tissues when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
- Wash your hands often and especially before touching food, dishes, glasses, silverware, or napkins.
- Use paper cups and paper towels in bathrooms.
- Don’t let your nose or mouth touch public telephones or drinking fountains.
- Don’t share food or eating utensils with others.
- Avoid close contact with others for the first two to four days.
The second way is how to directly avoid getting flu. You can do the following:
- Avoid close contact with people who have a cold.
- Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands often, especially after coming in contact with someone who has a cold.
- Eat healthy foods, especially fruits with vitamin C, such as oranges.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Do not smoke.
Do you have a sick child? Read How to comfort a sick child who is up all night.