The reason that cold is so bad: You're lonely

The reason your cold seems to be ruining your life may be because you're feeling a bit lonely.

Researchers have found lonely people report their common cold symptoms as more severe than those who aren't as isolated.

In a study, about 160 unmarried people, mostly men, were assessed on how lonely they felt and the size of their social network. The group was then given the cold through nasal drops and put in a hotel for five days.

Only about 75% of the people actually caught the cold and a person's state of isolation didn't make them more or less susceptible to the virus.

But after some monitoring, those who had reported being lonely described worse symptoms. The severe symptoms were more linked to how a person felt lonely, not with the actual size of their social network.

"We looked at the quality of people's relationships, not the quantity," said study author Angie S. LeRoy, a Rice University graduate student in psychology. "You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely. That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to cold symptoms."

Chris Fagundes, a psychology professor at Rice and a co-author of the study, tried to explain why this might be.

"Lonely people typically have elevated inflammatory responses. That could be part of the story," Fagundes said. "They are also less likely to perceive support from others in times of stress."

The study, published in the journal Health Psychology by the American Psychological Association, found loneliness may be an important social factor in examining how acute illnesses affect people.

"Doctors should take psychological factors into account at intake," Fagundes said. "It would help them understand the phenomenon when a person comes in sick."

Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman

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