Information on Immune Deficiency and Immunodeficiency Disorders to help support a weakened immune system.
Select a Topic
- What Causes Immune Deficiency?
- Symptoms of Immune Deficiencies
- Common Causes of Immune Deficiency
- Immune Deficiency in Children
- Help for Immune Deficiency
What is Immune Deficiency?
The immune system enables the body to fight off illness and infection on a daily basis. While we are usually unaware of it, we are constantly surrounded by a multitude of viruses, bacteria, microbes, parasites, and toxins that pose a potential threat to our health. If it were not for the immune system, these germs and foreign cells would have the upper hand.
Like most other important body systems, the immune system goes about its important job without any thought and effort on our part. It is usually only when things go wrong that we realize just how essential the immune system is.
Varying in degrees of severity, immune deficiency can be thought of as a condition where the body's defense system is compromised, causing it to be less resilient to foreign invading cells. Abnormal cells which develop inside the body systems may also multiply and cause illness if the immune system is compromised.
Symptoms of Immune Deficiencies
- Alopecia (Hair Loss)
- Gum Disease
- Skin Disorders (e.g. Warts, Acne, and Eczema)
- Cold Sores
- Ear Infections
What Causes Immune Deficiency?
Immune deficiency may occur for any number of reasons. Whatever the cause, people who have a compromised or weakened immune system tend to be more inclined to catching the flu, colds, or infections that they would normally be resistant to.
Possible Causes of Immune Deficiency
- The after-effects of previous illness or infection
- The consequences of an unbalanced lifestyle that does not sufficiently support immune system functioning
- The effects of medication
- The result of a number of serious medical conditions known as immunodeficiency disorders
Common Causes of Immune Deficiency
After-Effects of Previous Illness, Infection, or Injury
One of the common reasons for lowered immune functioning is illness or infection. Once your body has been under attack from any sort of illness, the immune system takes some time to fully recover. This can often set up a vicious cycle – though you are beginning to feel better, your immune system is still weakened, thus your body is still vulnerable to another invasion. If you get sick again before the immune system has fully recovered, the illness usually hits harder and recovery takes longer.
Certain illnesses have also been known to weaken the immune system such as chicken pox, measles, tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis, and certain types of cancer.
Injuries such as burn trauma or surgery also tend to lower the immune system's first line of defense (the skin and protective membranes), as the body has to split much of its energy and resources between healing and fighting off infections.
Effects of an Unbalanced Lifestyle:
- Poor Diet: Malnutrition, Eating Disorder and an unbalanced diet are leading causes of a lowered immune system. Research has shown that poor nutrition and potential starvation compromises the lymphatic system, making the body more vulnerable to infection and disease. By ensuring that you eat a wholesome, nutritious diet rich in fresh fruits, and vegetables, whole-grains, legumes and oils, you can help strengthen immune responses. Also try to avoid excess amounts of "bad foods" such as sugars, animal fats, and highly refined foods, as they tend to weaken the immune system.
- Stress: Many studies have shown that stress has a remarkably powerful effect on the immune system. Short term time-limited stresses such as public speaking or a momentary fright tend to temporarily boost the immune system, preparing the body for a potential threat, and giving it that extra boost it may need. However, prolonged stress tends to have the opposite effect and has been shown to significantly suppress the immune system.
- Not enough sleep: Too little sleep or poor quality sleep weakens the immune system, leaving the body more susceptible to other diseases and disorders. While it is not fully understood, people who suffer from sleep disturbances tend to have weaker immune functioning than those who get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep Disorders such as Sleep Apnea contributes to an unbalanced sleep schedule resulting in a weakened immune system.
- Poor hygiene habits: Simple hygiene habits such as washing hands regularly and keeping a clean living environment go a long way in helping the immune system protect us from potentially hazardous organisms.
Effects of Certain Medication:
Some medications, particularly immunosuppressant medications such as corticosteroids or medications used after organ transplants (to reduce the chances of the immune system rejecting the new and "foreign" organ), have an adverse effect on the immune system. While suppressing the immune system is the purpose of these medications, it leaves the body open to all sorts of other infections and illnesses.
Chemotherapy also often reduces the body's defenses for some months, both during and after treatment. This is due to the fact that chemotherapy reduces the white blood cell count, which is an essential element of the immune system.
Regular use of antibiotics may also contribute to a weakened immune system – due to the drugs themselves, and because they do not afford the immune system an opportunity to deal with the invading organisms and thus strengthen itself.
Serious Medical Conditions:
There is a group of immune-related disorders known as immunodeficiency disorders. This is where the immune system response is severely reduced or absent altogether. These disorders can be divided into two categories – Primary (also known as congenital) immunodeficiency disorders which are rare genetic defects that an individual is born with or pre-disposed to, or acquired immunodeficiency disorders, which are caused by external causes such as illness, malnutrition, or injury. Some examples of immunodeficiency disorders include:
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
- X-linked agammaglobulinemia
- Selective IgA deficiency
- Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
- Chronic granulomatous disease
- Leukocyte adhesion defects
- Bruton disease
- Combined immunodeficiency disease
As illustrated, the immune system has an essential role to play, and sometimes it needs some assistance. By supporting and enriching the immune system, we take a vital step in building resistance to disease and reducing susceptibility to colds, viruses, and cancer. There are a number of ways to boost the immune system and provide immune deficiency treatment alternatives. For example, boosting the system through practicing a healthy lifestyle, exercise, diet and good sleep habits.
Immune Deficiencies in Children
Children with deficient immune systems deal with recurrent infections, especially upper respiratory which can be very detrimental to a child’s ability to thrive. Although there is no cure for immune deficiencies, there are many things parents can do to ensure immune deficient children are happy and healthy.
Help for Immune Deficiency
Immune deficiency treatment often depends largely on the cause was diagnosed by a medical professional. For serious immune system diseases such as HIV, drug treatment will almost always be necessary.
If other causes such as dietary or lifestyle-related factors are determined to be at fault, treatment will involve a serious restructuring of eating and living habits, aimed at righting the causes of the immune system problem.
Therefore it is very important to see a specialist to have your immune deficiency diagnosed properly. Try to provide as much background information on your condition as possible so that your doctor can better understand your condition. Blood tests will also likely be required to determine if your condition is the result of an autoimmune disease.