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What Is the Man Flu?

Posted 10/17/2017 by UHBlog

A bad cold or the flu can take you off your game at work and at home. Talk to us about what you can do to prevent or treat these vexing respiratory infections.

What is the Man Flu?

Internet memes that depict men as sissies who can’t tolerate a simple cold or flu have helped to spark the question: Are men’s symptoms worse than their female counterparts? The possibility has even resulted in a website dedicated to the phenomena known as “man flu.”

Memes and websites may be fun and entertaining, but in reality, says internal medicine specialist Paul Coletta, MD, colds and flu do not discriminate by gender. They can, however, be riskier for the youngest and oldest members of the population.

“The gender difference isn’t really something that I consider when I'm working with a flu patient,” he says. “The symptoms among men and women are not really different.”

The man flu myth is hardly the only misunderstanding about the flu. Differentiating the flu from a common cold, for example, can be confusing. And gastroenteritis, a condition that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and other symptoms, is often called the “stomach flu” even though it has nothing to do with the influenza virus.

According to Dr. Coletta, colds and flu are respiratory illnesses that are caused by viruses. Because symptoms can be similar, testing sometimes needs to be done to tell which one a patient actually has.

“The common cold is an upper respiratory infection that generally is caused by the rhinovirus,” he says. “It is the most common acute illness.”

Although they are similar, cold symptoms are usually milder than flu symptoms and colds usually don’t result in more serious health problems.

The flu, which is caused by numerous strains of a virus called influenza, can cause mild to severe illness, and can develop into more severe health conditions, especially in young children, elderly people and people with certain health conditions – such as diabetes – that already tax their bodies.

“Body aches and myalgia [muscle pain] are things that are more commonly associated with a flu than a cold,” Dr. Coletta says.

Among the symptoms that colds and flu may have in common are stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing, headache and fatigue. Cold symptoms are generally milder than flu symptoms, and flu symptoms tend to come on very suddenly.

Treatment for both colds and flu include drinking plenty of liquids and getting plenty of rest. Medications like pain relievers and cold medicines can help, depending on the symptoms, but children shouldn't be given aspirin because of the potential of getting Reye's syndrome.

“Tamiflu, especially if it's taken within 48 hours of having symptoms, can help to decrease the duration and the severity of flu symptoms by limiting the replication of the flu virus,” Dr. Coletta says.

But preventing the flu is preferable to treating it, Dr. Coletta says. Good hygiene, such as washing your hands, is a key to reducing the risk of colds and flu.

He also suggests talking to your doctor about getting an annual flu vaccine, particularly for people at higher risk, such as elderly people. Although the vaccine may not protect a person from all strains of flu, the vaccine is formulated each year according to which strains are projected to be prominent during the upcoming flu season.

“We know that the older population is more at risk for respiratory and circulatory problems, so the flu can affect them worse than it does younger adults,” Dr. Coletta says.

Paul Coletta, MD is an internal medicine specialist at University Hospitals Suburban Health Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Coletta or any other doctor online.

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