Feeling lonely might worsen your cold, study finds

HOUSTON — If you feel lonesome, you might have a harder time with acute illnesses like common colds, a new study finds.

Researchers at Rice University discovered that people who are lonely are likely to feel lousier when fighting a cold than someone would who is in a relationship or surrounded by a vast network of friends.

“Loneliness puts people at risk for premature mortality and all kinds of other physical illnesses,” says graduate student and study co-author Angie LeRoy in a university release. “But nothing had been done to look at an acute but temporary illness that we’re all vulnerable to, like the common cold.”

Laying on couch
Having a cold is no fun. But if you’re lonely, it’s even more miserable, a new study finds.

To reach their conclusion, the research team sampled a group of 159 individuals, aged 18-to-55, from a larger study. Nearly 60 percent of those examined were men. The participants were intentionally given a cold via virus-laden nasal drops, and then quarantined in a hotel room for five days.

Each participant was evaluated on two popular metrics gauging social attitude and behavior: the Short Loneliness Scale and the Social Network Index both prior to and throughout the duration of the study.

What the researchers found was that those who both got sick and screened as lonely some in the control group may have been found to be the latter, but not the former had a greater severity of symptoms than those who got sick, but felt socially fulfilled.

To clarify, loneliness did not increase one’s likelihood to get sick, but it did worsen symptoms while one was ill.

In addition, LeRoy says that quality far superseded quantity in terms of social networks. The size of one’s social group had no bearing on their ability to recuperate from an illness.

“You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely. That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to these cold symptoms,” she adds.

Coming into the study, it was known that “different psycho-social factors like feeling rejected or feeling left out or not having strong social bonds with other people do make people feel worse physically, mentally and emotionally,” says LeRoy.

The researchers argue that their findings warrant physicians taking a more holistic approach when it comes to treating acute illnesses. Taking “psychological factors into account at intake on a regular basis… would definitely help [doctors] understand the phenomenon when the person comes in sick,” comments lead researcher Chris Fagundes in the release.

Individuals should also strive to be more socially active, LeRoy says.

“If you build those networks — consistently working on them and your relationships — when you do fall ill, it may not feel so bad,” she argues.

The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.


  1. in the brave new digital world everybody is lonely and miserable….even when they are healthy and happy

    1. Spot on!!! I was thinking the exact same thing!! Technology is making people lonely even though they have “hundreds” of Facebook friends.

  2. What springs to my mind, being the educated individual I am, is how much money was Rice University given to research this. It is common sense that when you feel bad due to a cold, flu, sickness, etc. etc. you will feel better when someone is around you. It does not take a group of geniuses to figure this out.

    1. Being both educated and a realist me thinks, as any empath knows, it is a good thing not many people realize that only about 1 in 30 people have the compassion and capacity to selflessly care about other people and the rest are just faking it.
      When I’m sick I like to be left alone and not inflict my misery on others. Fully incapacitated is another story altogether.
      Federally sponsored studies like this are biased to influence the weak so they feel better about sharing and, in the future, being housed in a community environment.

      1. I would agree with you, but there is more than just being left alone. When a condition worsens, it takes another to make certain the ailing one is professionally cared for. My life long friend, living alone fell, and even though discovered some hours following, died. Doctors said had he been given help sooner he could have lived.

    2. Remember the large federal grant to determine why lesbian women were much more likely to be overweight (in comparison to heterosexual women).

      1. I don’t remember that one, but I do seem to recall a few years back about a federal grant, chipmunks and a treadmill. Wish I was making this up but I am not.

  3. How about people who complain all the time are lonelier because they have no friends and nobody wants to be around them. They complain about everything, including colds. Of course they’re going to complain more about a cold than better-adjusted less-complaining people with friends. Remember: correlation does not equal causation.

  4. Read so many articles recently about lonely people and being sick, but does not make any sense.
    -One can be “lonely” in a room full of strangers.
    -One can be “lonely” in a room full of hostile people who know you.
    -One can choose to be alone which is not the same as being “lonely” (so many pictures show people alone then use that picture to support loneliness)
    -Some of the sickest people (physically and mentally) live in big cities, are famous and rich and yet they either commit suicide or their autobiography is a nightmare tale of drugs, depression and misery.
    -Some of the most saturated places in America of mental health providers are in extremely wealthy and highly social regions like the Bay Area to Hollywood. Why so many shrinks if people have such a social life?

    1. Agree — ‘loneliness’ to me is thinking that you have no one who understands you or who you could talk to or count on if needed. It’s not the same thing as literally being alone. Reminds of the old trope about the sad clown; people who actively and almost maniacally seek affirmation through applause or laughter may achieve a celebrity status but are unlikely to find whatever inner peace they were looking for, because it wasn’t about other people, really — it was about themselves.

      1. Agree. “Loneliness” is a state of mind and not actually a physical aspect though the latter can include the former.

      2. Just like Richard Simmons, surrounded by people who love him but opting for a life of self imposed isolation.

    2. You can be lonely in a Super Bowl game : Nobody pays attention to you everybody wants to make sure that Tom Brady is not messing with the ball pressure.

  5. Egocentric people are more likely to be lonely and self-pitying. We needed ex- spurts to cum up with that?

  6. So we should all seek to be more socially active, the article concludes. When so many idiots think socialism means being social, I prefer my own company and that of a few close friends, thank you very much.

  7. I admit to being lonely. And I’m actually in a cold that I can’t beat. It started with frequent intense couching and at a certain point included a fever. The fever broke and I thought I was on the downside of the cold, but the coughing has continued. This has gone on for about four weeks. I’ve been on two antibiotics but they haven’t helped. At that point a nurse said to me that what I have is viral not bacterial and there’s nothing to be done. So I’m trying to exist, I wouldn’t call it living, with this chronic cough.

    1. I totally believe in herbal remedies. Antibiotics kill bad bacteria as well as good. The best way to fight a cold is to strengthen the body’s immune system. Forget the antibiotics, try this, 50 billion strain probiotic, high dose vitamin C 1,000 mg (3 tablets a day until you feel better), gargle and swallow a teaspoon of colloidal silver 4 times a day, grapefruit seed extract (this is natural anitbiotic which fights infection while boosting your immunity), elderberry juice (30ml x 3 times a day). My brother had strep throat and swollen neck glands, I dosed him with all of this and it killed the infection and stopped it from spreading into his lungs in 2 days! Amazing stuff. Try all of this and you’ll feel better and get rid of that cough. It’ll clear up your chest infection.

      1. Joanne, thank you so much for your comment with specific recommendations as to how to fight the cough.. I have begun to take all 4 remedies you recommended. It’s only day one but at least I’m finally being proactive and not feeling helpless. By the way, the elderberry syrup (couldn’t find the juice) that I took this morning is incredibly soothing.

        1. Aw good for you! Keep going with it, it really works. Keep me posted too. One more thing, if you have it in your county, try Manuka honey. It’s natural antibiotic in a jar. It fights infections it’s even been used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria strains on people with open wounds that wouldn’t heal. Have 2 tablespoons with a half a freshly squeezed lemon, do that twice a day, it’ll also help soothe that cough. Let me know how you get on 🙂

  8. It’s because all these loners have no one to tell them to suck it up ans get over it. Now where’s my money for a common sense conclusion. The world has gone mad.

    1. There must be a lot of leftover federal money from the Barry administration. I wonder if Moochelle’s friends, aka the company that was paid about $10 BILLION for the BarryCare software, is still working for the government?

  9. This “study” only indicates correlation, not causation. That such ridiculousness garners whisker-stroking contemplation among psychologists proves they are not interested in science, only culture.

  10. Here’s a good example of why pharmaceutical companies make boatloads of money off old, haggard, single feminist women who stay at home playing with cats and watching mindless TV shows.

  11. Maybe people who are lonely are more likely to exaggerate their symptoms in an effort to use the opportunity to get the attention they are missing?

  12. Of course. Everyone wants someone to care. I want my Mommy. Unfortunately, she died some time ago…

  13. So old men and women hanging out drinking coffee at Hardee’s, McDonalds etc can be a good thing after all. 🙂

      1. I recently turned 66 and find it is fun before work to drink coffee at McDonald’s myself.

  14. Oddly enough, people who live alone rarely get sick, at least in my experience. OMG! Comment advertising, how desperate and pathetic!

  15. Doesn’t really take a Einstein to figure this out, no wonder all these “educated” millennials are in reality stupid.

  16. Was laid off from work at the start of winter. By not being out in public this is the first winter I did not catch a cold or the flu. If I could become an artist and work alone from home I’d be healthier than ever.

  17. Did somebody actually do a thesis on this? How impressive to any future employer, unless of course, it is with a gubmit agency.

  18. Usually everything is harder when you are alone. When you get sick you can’t just lay there and get better, you have to do everything for yourself. I do wonder about the loneliness thing in general, can you die early just from being lonely or is it because most people who are lonely get depressed and are more likely to not eat healthy and do no exercise.

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