The immune system is our bodies’ defense mechanism against viruses and harmful foreign organisms. Made out of tissues, cells and organs, the immune system comprises layered defense mechanisms that act as barriers against potentially harmful agents. The immune system helps us stay healthy and keeps colds, infections and other diseases at arm’s length. In the best case scenario, the immune system does its job flawlessly, and we seldom go down with the flu. But there are also more unfortunate exceptions where the immune system fails to work as it’s supposed to.
Reasons for a deficient immune system
Here is a list of reasons why you could be dealing with a deficient immune system.
- You have an innate weak immune system, also known as immune deficiency.
- You have a disease which will weaken your immune system, resulting in an acquired immune deficiency.
- Your immune system is overtly active.
- Your immune system is working against you, resulting in an autoimmune disease.
When your autoimmune system is not functioning properly, it is probably because it is performing less than it’s supposed to or more than it should. For example, when the body responds to a trigger it’s not familiar with, the body will proceed to fight off and hurt its tissues, exposing the body to additional infections. Among the most common autoimmune disorders there are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – the immune system cells attack the joints, which results in inflammation and swelling. This can further develop and permanently affect the joints.
- Multiple sclerosis – nerve cells are attacked by the immune system, leading to blindness, spasms and coordination problems
- Type 1 diabetes – the immune system attacks the pancreas cells that are in charge with producing insulin.
- Lupus – the skin, lungs, kidneys and other body tissues are attacked by the immune system.
- Vasculitis – blood vessels are damaged by the immune system, which can attack any organ in the body. As a consequence, the symptoms can vary significantly.
If you were born with a weak immune system, you can suffer from:
- SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency) – SCID patients lack some essential white blood cells, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to infections.
- AIDS – caused by HIV, this immunodeficiency disorder will attack and destroy essential white blood cells. The immune system is weakened, therefore the patients are easy targets for infections.
- Temporary immune deficiency – during or after a certain treatment, your immune system can be weakened and exposed to viruses and infections. This is also valid for people who abuse drugs or patients who undergo transplants.
Over-active immune system
If your immune system reacts to harmless agents or substances, you can develop some of the following diseases:
- Asthma – a chronic disease that affects the lungs and the airways.
- Allergic rhinitis – also known as hay fever, this allergy appears when the immune system overreacts to various particles in the air.
- Eczema – causes itchy, red, patches on the skin because of inflammation.
- Anaphylaxis – an allergy to medication or food which causes swelling, rashes or low blood pressure.
Diseases of the immune system range widely and are quite frequent. Whether they are innate or they develop as the individual grows old, we are still searching for ways to prevent them and keep them under control.
For more information about the immune system, check out All You Need to Know about Immune Health.