How to Boost Immunity When It's Low
What Is Immune Deficiency?
To most people, immune deficiency simply means being prone to illnesses, but this is just a superficial understanding.
Immune deficiency can be categorized into three types: congenital immune deficiency, acquired secondary immune deficiency, and physiological immune deficiency. The first two are pathological and require treatment, while physiological immune deficiency typically doesn't require treatment.
Congenital immune deficiency, medically known as immunodeficiency, occurs when certain components of the immune system lose their normal function due to factors such as genetic mutations. This leads to a severe form of immune deficiency. Such diseases are relatively rare among children with immune deficiency and are generally more severe and long-lasting.
Acquired secondary immune deficiency, as the name suggests, results from other factors causing immune deficiency. This type of immune deficiency can often be restored once the underlying causes are eliminated. Common causes of acquired secondary immune deficiency include infections, medications, malnutrition, and other illnesses.
Physiological immune deficiency is a natural part of the human development process and is not considered a pathological condition. Just as we don't expect children to have the same level of intelligence as adults, we shouldn't expect young children to have the same level of immunity as adults.
Which Children Might Have Immune Deficiency?
Immunity mainly comes from two sources: the body generates specific antibodies against pathogens after an illness, which can help fight off the same pathogen if it attacks again. Some of these antibodies can persist for a long time (e.g., measles antibodies), while others are temporary (e.g., common cold antibodies). Immunization through vaccines also stimulates the body to produce long-lasting immunity.
The second source of immunity is passive immunity. For instance, newborns (babies within their first month of life) receive many antibodies from their mothers, which provide them with immunity. Similarly, injecting immune globulins (specific disease antibodies) can provide temporary protection against certain diseases.
In general, if a child experiences the following symptoms, it may be worth considering whether they have immune deficiency:
Frequent illnesses, especially severe infections like sepsis, pneumonia, otitis media, meningitis, diarrhea, and skin infections. These are primarily caused by bacterial or viral infections.
Poor response to treatment for illnesses, with prolonged disease durations.
Severe infections occurring after routine vaccinations.
Long-term use of drugs that may impact immune function.
Children with cancer, leukemia, and other malignant diseases.
For children suspected of having immune deficiency, the first step is to determine which type of immune deficiency they may have, among the three categories mentioned earlier. An experienced doctor can make this diagnosis through appropriate testing. Diagnosing immune deficiency often requires comprehensive laboratory tests. Some common congenital immune deficiencies have genetic diagnostic tests available in China. Knowing the specific type of immune deficiency is crucial for designing effective treatment plans.
What to Do for Immune Deficiency?
Congenital Immune Deficiency
The treatment of congenital immune deficiency varies depending on the condition, but it's generally challenging and long-term. Some congenital immune deficiencies can be managed effectively. Since most congenital immune deficiencies are caused by genetic mutations, they often have a hereditary component.
Acquired Secondary Immune Deficiency
The key to managing acquired secondary immune deficiency is to identify and address the underlying causes. Many viral or bacterial infections can impair the immune system. For example, extreme cases of immune deficiency are seen in HIV/AIDS patients. Immune function can usually recover once the infections are effectively cleared.
Certain medications used to treat illnesses may affect immune system function. Therefore, changing or discontinuing such drugs is critical. Malnutrition can also impact immune system development and maturation, resulting in immune deficiency. Many other diseases can affect the immune system, such as congenital heart disease. After correcting heart defects, children's recurring infections usually improve significantly.
Whether it's congenital or acquired secondary immune deficiency, a systematic approach to treatment is necessary. A few children who appear to have immune deficiency may actually have a more pronounced form of physiological immune deficiency, characterized by more severe and longer-lasting symptoms, and a higher frequency of infections. Such cases resemble pathological immune deficiency and require medical guidance and appropriate treatment.
Physiological Immune Deficiency
Physiological immune deficiency usually presents with milder symptoms than the other two forms of immune deficiency. Infections typically involve upper respiratory tract conditions like the common cold, rather than severe illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis, and others.
Additionally, many children may experience increased susceptibility to infections when they first enter a daycare, kindergarten, or school setting. This is because children are exposed to a variety of bacteria and viruses in a collective environment. Just as children may experience psychological changes when they enter a new environment, this process requires adaptation, typically over a period of about a year.
Physiological immune deficiency is a normal part of human development. The immune system, like other bodily systems, undergoes a process of growth and maturation. The normal course of immune system maturation can vary from person to person and is influenced by various health conditions. As such, a minority of children may exhibit more pronounced and prolonged symptoms of immune deficiency, resembling pathological immune deficiency. In such cases, it is essential to have a proper understanding and approach to address these concerns.