With the Coronavirus pandemic and the panic surrounding it, we are beginning to understand that our immune health is our only real protection against various viruses and other infectious diseases
Factors affecting Immune Balance
The immune system is incredibly complex, and it involves many types of blood cells and organs, such as antibodies, immune cells, and lymph nodes, just to name a few. When any of the organs or blood cells are damaged or otherwise affected, the entire immune system may become more susceptible to infection. Given the complexity of the immune system, it’s hardly surprising that a multitude of factors can upset one’s immune health.
- Genetic abnormalities, aging, lifesaving medical interventions like organ transplants, medical conditions, some medications and even things like nutrient deficiencies, bad habits (smoking, drinking, sedentary lifestyle), pollution, stress and a lack of sleep can all take a toll on the immune system.
This makes nearly all of us susceptible to immune imbalances, and at times like these when immune health is a priority, we must be aware of the signs that point to immune problems.
Below are common and yet often overlooked signs that may point to an immune imbalance:
- Digestive Issues
Our gut microbiome, or the collection of bacteria that live in our gut, is firmly linked to our immune health, as is our nutrition, which is why we often talk of things like "immune-boosting foods" or vitamins and minerals that help our immunity. A 2018 study suggests that improving the gut microbiome may lead to novel treatments of serious autoimmune conditions, allergies, inflammatory conditions and even be a novel immune therapy for certain cancers. In addition to that, certain immune disorders may damage the gut lining, which causes inflammation as well as various digestive issues. If you observe that your normal digestion has slowed down, you have lost your appetite, have abdominal cramps or experience diarrhea that persists for two weeks or more, it can point to an immune issue.
- Chronic Fatigue
If you’re healthy overall, but keep feeling tired and down, no matter how much sleep you get, it might be because something has gone awry with your immune health. You may even experience flu-like symptoms, such as occasional joint and muscle aches, without having a cold or the flu. This condition is called Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and recent research suggests that an overactive immune system or a chronic viral infection may be causing the symptoms of the CFS. It also needs noting that women in their 40’s and 50’s are disproportionately more likely to be affected by the condition than other populations.
- Recurrent Colds and Other Infections
This might seem obvious, but one of the clearest signs that you might be suffering from an immune imbalance is that you’re more susceptible to colds and the flu than others. Recurrent fungal infections, such as yeast infections and nail issues, as well as frequent complications of the cold and flu-like sinusitis, tonsillitis, and ear infections are also common signs of a compromised immune system.
Generally speaking, if you’re an adult and have to take antibiotics more than twice a year, your immune system may be weaker than you ideally want it to be.
- Cold Hands and Feet
One’s fingers and toes are typically the first to show a problem with blood vessels, as they are mainly supplied by tiny capillaries that can spasm, become inflamed or clogged more easily than larger blood vessels. When exposed to cold temperatures, you can feel like your fingers, toes, and more rarely nose and ears, may become cold much quicker. In some cases, when the spasm of the vessels limits blood supply to those areas significantly, the skin may even change color to blue and white – a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome. When you return to a warmer environment and the blood supply is restored, the skin in the affected area may become painful and red. These symptoms may point to immune problems, as do the sensation of tingling or numbness in the same areas, typically fingers and toes.
- Aching Joints
Achy joints, too, can point to an underlying immune imbalance. As a matter of fact, the immune system is nearly always worsening joint pain, be it because it is sending immune cells to fight the cause of inflammation of the joints, or because it is malfunctioning, as in rheumatoid arthritis when immune cells suddenly start attacking the lining of the joints. As a result of the immune issue, your joints become inflamed, and you will experience pain, as well as a loss of mobility and flexibility in the joints. The skin in the area may also be tender to the touch and warm, and symptoms may be worse in the morning.
- Trouble Swallowing
Have you ever felt a knot in your throat while swallowing a bite of food or a sip of some drink? Feeling that from time to time, especially when you truly had to swallow a bigger bite than usual is normal, but if that is a frequent reaction, it might point to an issue.
Some people also find that they feel like the food is stuck in their chest, and typically, both of the symptoms we mentioned can be indicative of a weakened or inflamed esophagus, as well as a possible muscle spasm of the esophagus. When inflammation is the root cause of the symptom, it may be brought about by an immune issue.
- Hair Loss in Patches
There are many reasons why people may experience hair loss, and aging and stress are two major causes. However, a specific kind of hair loss known as alopecia areata may be caused by an autoimmune imbalance, as a result of which immune cells start attacking and killing hair follicles, typically in a limited area of the body. Those suffering from the condition will typically see that they lose hair in small patches on any part of the body. Coin-sized bald patches on the scalp, for example, are likely to be the result of an underlying immune issue. The condition is likely genetic, and it typically appears at a young age, but exceptions sometimes occur.
- Frequent Headaches
Few people know that an immune issue may be the cause of unexplained headaches, but medical studies have found a link between immune issues, such as vasculitis – the inflammation of blood vessels, since the late 1970s. Seasonal allergies, which occur as a result of an overactive immune system, have also been implicated in causing headaches since many seasonal allergy sufferers tend to experience more headaches during an allergy flareup. Even migraines are suggested to have an immune component, and some studies even suggest that immune therapies may become a new and effective way of treating the mysterious condition.
- A Mild Fever
Many of you will know that a fever is one of the tools our immune systems use to kill pathogens. This is because many viruses and bacteria can only survive at a very specific temperature range, and by raising the body temperature, the immune system is turning our bodies into an inhabitable environment for these germs.
Unfortunately, an weakened or overactive immune system often reacts this way even when there are no pathogens in sight, which is why you may feel fatigued, have chills, sweat more than normal and experience a low-grade fever. A slight fever is a fever that persists for at least 24 hours and is within the range of 98.6°F (37°C) – 100.4°F (38°C).. If you observe that you have a low-grade fever frequently, it may point to an immune issue.
- Diarrhea or Constipation
Diarrhea that lasts more than 2 to 4 weeks can be a warning sign that your immune system is harming the lining of your small intestine or digestive tract. Constipation is a concern, too. If your bowel movements are hard to pass, very firm, or look like they’re made up of small rabbit pellets, your immune system may be forcing your intestine to slow down. Other possible causes include bacteria, viruses, and other health conditions.
- Dry eyes
If you have an autoimmune disorder, that means your immune system attacks your body instead of defending it. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are two examples. Many people who have an autoimmune disorder find that they have dry eyes. You might feel a sandy, gritty feeling like something is in your eye. Or you may notice pain, redness, a stringy discharge, or blurred vision. Some people find they can’t cry even when they’re upset.
Your skin is your body’s first barrier against germs. How it looks and feels can reflect how well your immune system is doing its job.
Itchy, dry, red skin is a common symptom of inflammation. So is a rash that is painful or doesn’t clear up.
- Weight change
You find yourself gaining extra pounds even though your eating habits and workouts haven’t changed. Or the number on your scale may drop for no clear reason. It’s possible this is because of damage to your thyroid gland from an autoimmune disease.
Bruising easily is another sign of an unhealthy immune system. If you notice you are bruising easily, this is a prime sign that your body could be bleeding on the inside. This means you are prone to infections. One of the causes of bruising easy is a deficiency of vitamin C and Zinc. This causes the tiny capillaries and blood vessels to rupture easily. Another cause is a deficiency of white blood cells. Notice that most throat lozenges have the ingredients of Vitamin C and Zinc.
What should you do to improve your immunity?
- Practice good hygiene, which includes washing the hands frequently
- Avoid people who are sick
- Disinfect household objects
- Follow a doctor’s advice on vaccines
- Manage Stress
- Get enough sleep and exercise
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take probiotics
Source: AAP, Internet & Others
The views expressed in this article should not be considered as a substitute for a physician’s advice. Always make sure to seek a doctor or a professional’s advice before proceeding with the home treatment plan.