The body’s first line of defense against infectious diseases (like bacteria, viruses, or fungi) is the immune system. The specialized cells and organs of the immune system help identify and fight off these foreign pathogens. If the immune system is not working properly it can lead to several serious disorders like allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, or immune deficiency. Immune deficiency disorders lead to an abnormally low resistance to infection.
The immune system may be suppressed by medications or illness (most commonly). A primary Immune deficiency (PIDD) is present from birth as a genetic disorder that prevents the immune system from functioning properly. Examples of immune deficiency diseases include severe combined immune deficiency, common variable immune deficiency, Human immunodeficiency virus / acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), drug-induced immune deficiency, and graft versus host syndrome. An estimated 500,000 Americans are afflicted with PIDDs; 5,000 to 10,000 are severely affected. There are over 150 different forms of PIDDs; almost all of these diseases are considered rare (affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States).
Patients with immune deficiency may have infections in any part of the body - the skin, the sinuses, the throat, the ears, the lungs, the brain or spinal cord, or in the urinary or intestinal tracts. The increased vulnerability to infection may include repeated infections, infections caused by unusual or typically benign pathogens, infections that won't clear up or unusually severe infections. Fortunately, with proper medical care, many patients with immune deficiencies live full and independent lives.
A thorough personal and family medical history along with physical examination is the first step in evaluating a person with a potential immune deficiency. Specific questions may be asked such as:
•Do the same symptoms keep coming back or never seem to completely clear? •Is the infection severe enough to require hospitalization or intravenous antibiotics? •Is there a family history of early infant death or of susceptibility to infection?
Laboratory tests (blood tests) that can measure different parts of the immune system may be necessary depending on the clinical history.
The treatment options are specific for each disease. General measures such as eating a healthy diet, decreasing stress, increasing sleep, and practicing good hand hygiene may be warranted. Specific therapies like rotating antibiotic schedules, intravenous immunoglobulin, or granulocyte-colony stimulating factor may be necessary depending on the specific disease.
How We Can Help
Board-certified allergist-immunologists receive two to three years of specialty training in the area of immune dysfunction and immune deficiency and are experts in this field of medicine. All Allergy Associates physicians are board certified and will combine your history with information from the physical exam and laboratory testing to provide an accurate diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan to address your symptoms.
Immune Deficiency Foundation