The immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, such as germs, parasites, and cancer cells.
What is an immunodeficiency disorder?
Immunodeficiency means a weak (deficient) immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more . People with immunodeficiency are sometimes said to be immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.
Your sicknesses may last longer than other people's, and what is a mild infection for other people may make you severely sick.
With a weak immune system, you're not protected well from illness and infection
You'll get sick more often than normal
Common infections may be more dangerous, and you may get unusual infections
You may be born with immunodeficiency or get it from an infection, disease, or medical treatment
If you have immunodeficiency, you'll need to do things to avoid getting an infection
Doctors treat illnesses caused by immunodeficiency with antibiotics, immune globulin, and sometimes stem cell transplantation
What causes an immunodeficiency disorder?
Immunodeficiency disorders can be caused by:
A genetic disorder you're born with—though this is rare
Certain cancers, particularly cancers that affect your bone marrow
Cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and some chemotherapy
Many drugs that doctors use to block inflammation can weaken your immune system. Such drugs are called immunosuppressants. An example is a corticosteroid drug, like prednisone. Sometimes doctors give you immunosuppressants because your immune system is attacking your own body (an autoimmune disorder What problems can the immune system have? The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more ).
What are the symptoms of an immunodeficiency disorder?
Getting frequent infections, such as a sinus infection Sinusitis Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, most commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection or by an allergy. Some of the most common symptoms of sinusitis are pain, tenderness, nasal congestion... read more , bronchitis Acute Bronchitis Your bronchi are the tubes that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become swollen and irritated. Acute bronchitis starts suddenly, usually over a few days. Acute bronchitis... read more , pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more , or ear infection Ear Infection (Acute Otitis Media) Your middle ear is a hollow space behind your eardrum. The middle ear contains 3 tiny bones that send your eardrum's vibrations to the nerves in your inner ear. Acute otitis media is a painful... read more
Lots of mouth sores
Losing appetite and weight
For a baby or child, long-lasting diarrhea and not growing as much as expected (failure to thrive Failure to Thrive Failure to thrive is when a baby or child doesn't grow or gain weight as expected. Babies and children with failure to thrive are underweight, lose weight, or stop growing at their expected... read more )
How can doctors tell if I have an immunodeficiency disorder?
Doctors suspect an immunodeficiency disorder if you're sick a lot, your sicknesses are more severe, or you don't respond normally to treatment. They usually do:
Blood tests may show a very low white blood cell count or low levels of substances made by your immune system. You'll be given an HIV test if you have risk factors for HIV infection. If your child has signs of immunodeficiency doctors may do genetic testing.
Depending on your symptoms, doctors may also do:
Skin tests that tell how your immune system is working
Biopsy of any swollen lymph nodes (swollen glands) or sometimes your bone marrow
How do doctors treat immunodeficiency disorders?
Doctors treat the disorder, such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV infection, that is causing your immunodeficiency. Successful treatment usually improves your immune system.
If a medicine you're taking causes immunodeficiency, doctors may decrease the dose or have you stop taking it. Doctors will consider how much you need the medicine and how bad the immunodeficiency is while deciding whether to decrease or stop the medicine.
If immunodeficiency has caused an infection, doctors may give you:
Immune globulin (antibodies from the blood of people with a healthy immune system)
If your immunodeficiency disorder is caused by a bone marrow problem, doctors may do:
Stem cells are cells that develop into blood cells, including the white blood cells that fight infection. Doctors can get stem cells from healthy people and give them to you in an IV. The stem cells can go to your bone marrow and start to make healthy white blood cells.
How do I prevent infections if I have immunodeficiency?
You should try to avoid infections by:
Avoiding contact with sick people
Getting all the vaccinations (shots) your doctor recommends
Avoiding undercooked food, or water that may not be clean
If you start to get sick, you should check with your doctor even if it doesn't seem too serious.