Proteins and cells in the blood and lymphoid tissue (bone marrow, lymph nodes, thymus, and spleen and gastrointestinal tract parts) make up the immune system. The immune system works properly when these organs produce and give off lymphocytes (white blood cells) to fight antigens, or foreign matter, such as bacteria, that is in the body and will cause the body to get sick. An immunodeficiency disorder occurs when, for a certain reason, the immune system does not function the way it is supposed to. When the immune system cannot function correctly it is unable to properly fight diseases and infections. This disorder results in a patient becoming more vulnerable to getting sick, due to viral and bacterial infections. There are many specific types of immunodeficiency disorders, and each is presented and treated differently. These specific types include AIDS, immune system cancers (e.g. leukemia), and complex immune diseases (e.g. viral hepatitis).
Each specific type of immunodeficiency order has its own symptoms. In general, the symptom that points to an immune system abnormality and the one most patients notice first is that they are always sick, and/or are sick for a long period of time, even if the illnesses are not serious.
- The common cold
- Conjunctivitis/Pink eye
- Sinus infections
- Yeast infections
There are two main types of immunodeficiency disorders: primary and secondary. The cause of an immunodeficiency disorder differs depending on which type the disorder is.
- Primary immunodeficiency disorders are hereditary, or are passed on to children by their parents.
- Primary immunodeficiency disorders are caused by genetic mutations.
- Patients suffering from primary immunodeficiency disorders are born with these disorders.
Secondary immunodeficiency disorders are more common, and they can be the product of a variety of causes.
- Malfunctioning Liver
- Some drugs (e.g. chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy, corticosteroids)
- Viral infections
- Nutrition- and behavior-related causes (e.g. alcoholism, malnutrition)
- Renal Issues
- Serious burns
A doctor may suspect a patient has an immunodeficiency if the patient suffers from infections that occur frequently and/or do not go away. Also, if the patient suffers from a serious infection from conditions that do not usually produce such a severe reaction, or present one or more of the symptoms mentioned, they might suffer from an immunodeficiency.
Early identification of immunodeficiency disorders, followed by correct treatment, is very important to ensuring that the patient is able to live a healthy life with the disorder.
A doctor may perform a variety of tests to diagnose immunodeficiency:
- Blood tests (to reveal abnormalities in the blood’s composition that may tell doctors that the immune system is not functioning properly)
- HIV test
- Blood or urine tests (to look at protein levels)
- Tests for specific infections
Medication and preventative action are combined to create specific treatments based on the type of immunodeficiency disorder one has. For example, in addition to the common medications given and preventative actions taken, as described below, other diseases related to immunodeficiency disorders (AIDs, cancer, etc.) need to be treated as well.
- Instructions to avoid contact with people who are contagious and/or also have immunodeficiency disorders
- Antibiotics: short and long term treatment plans to treat infections and prevent them from recurring
- Medications for symptoms caused by immunodeficiency disease: examples include pain and fever medication, decongestants for sinus conditions, and medication that helps reduce mucus in airways
- Treatment to enhance and support immune system functions:
- Interferon (also used to treat some types of viral infections)
- Immunoglobulin therapy: antibody proteins that can be administered through an intravenous IV line or injected under the skin
- Growth factors: to help immunodeficiency caused by a lack of white blood cells that work to fight infections and disease