Loneliness may make a common cold feel worse, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Houston found that among people who had the cold virus, those who expressed feelings of loneliness were more likely to also report more severe symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. This adds to the growing body of evidence that loneliness can lead to more serious health problems such as heart disease and an early death, NPR reports.
Angie LeRoy, a doctorate student in psychology and author on the study, says there has been little research on the link between common, short-term sicknesses like colds and loneliness.
For the study, LeRoy and her colleagues recruited 159 people between the ages of 18 to 55 who agreed to complete psychological screening tests, be exposed to the cold virus through nose drops, and be quarantined in a hotel for five days.
The participants were scored on how lonely they were, as well as their level of social isolation. The size and diversity of their social networks were also measured. There was no difference when it came to catching the cold, but among those who did get sick, those who were lonely turned out to be 39% more likely to report more severe symptoms compared to those who were not lonely, LeRoy says.
The researchers deliberately measured subjective reports of symptoms, because such factors are more likely to be the reason a person would stay home or disrupt normal physical activities.
Even something as simple as the common cold can be affected by how you’re feeling beforehand.
There is no clear cause as to why this is, but other studies have suggested factors such as effects on the immune system and behavioral traits.
The study did have its limitations, even while the researchers controlled for variables such as age, marital status and symptoms of depression. LeRoy thinks this could suggest that health care providers should also evaluate psychological as well as physical symptoms in patients, even for the common cold.
The study was published in Health Psychology.