Malfunction or disorders of the immune system can be caused by severe malnutrition especially protein starvation, through drugs and infections, overreactive response from the immune system or is a born condition. Therefore malfunction or disorders of the immune system can come under the four categories of:

  • autoimmune disorders (the body’s own immune system attacks its own tissue)
  • immunodeficiency disorders (primary or acquired)
  • allergic disorders (the immune system overreacts in response to an antigen)
  • cancers of the immune system

Autoimmune Disorders

This malfunction or disorders of the immune system, autoimmune disorder, occurs when the body for some reason attacks its own healthy cells as though they were foreign invaders. It is the result of an overzealous immune system – a normal reaction gone wild.

Your immune system produces T cells and antibodies and directs its powerful defensive properties against your own tissues. These misguided T cells and autoantibodies contribute to many diseases.

It may involve a single organ as in thyroiditis, a disease of the thyroid gland, or many other organs. Some involve only one type of tissue while others are systemic ie it runs throughout an entire system of the body eg blood vessels.

One of the most invasive autoimmune diseases which can attack virtually any organ in the entire body is scleroderma. Other examples are :

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes
  • Hashimoto’s thyroidistis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple factors are probably involved in autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise and are paralleling the increase in chemicals that produce cell-damaging free radicals. Free radicals can suppress the immune system. These conditions are debilitating, make sufferers very sick indeed and can have fatal consequences for many patients.

Immunodificiency Disorders

The second group of malfunction or disorders of the immune system is called immunodeficiency disorders.

Immunodeficiency disorders consists of a wide range of health problems that interfere with the ability of the immune system to work effectively.

Primary immunodeficiencies are conditions of the disorder you are born with, although the symptoms may not show up until later in life. For example, some are born without the thymus which means the immune system cannot produce mature T cells .

Others are born with cells that are unable to produce immunglobulins, a common one being the IgA deficiency. IgA deficiency means the IgA antibody is not produced or is not sufficiently produced. What this means is people with this malfunction or disorder of the immune system tend to have allergies or get colds more often.

Secondary immunodeficiencies are those that are acquired through infection or produced by drugs through medication. 

The most notorious is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus infection and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). This disease slowly destroys the immune system by killing the T helper cells. Without this T helper cells, your defense system cannot defend the body against even normally harmless organisms.

They can also result from severe malnutrition or other medical problems. Sometimes its not the disease but its treatment that suppresses the immune response. The underlying disease may be under control, but the patient may succumb to an unrelated infection caused by the treatment. For example, chemotherapy treatment for cancer, it attacks both the cancer cells and healthy ones including those found in the bone marrow. This reduces the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

Whatever the cause, be it primary or secondary immunodeficiency, the net result is a lifelong vulnerability to disease. When you have a serious, chronic infection that does not respond to normal treatment, it could be a sign of an immunodeficiency disorder. Generally people with malfunction or disorders of the immune system get sick faster, more severely and more often than normal and have an extremely difficult time recovering from an infection.

If you are diagnosed with this disorder or are undergoing medical treatment that may weaken immune function, you must protect your health. Be especially vigilant about maintaining good nutrition, getting enough rest, avoiding harmful drugs and toxins.

Allergic Disorders

The third malfunction or disorders of the immune system is allergic disorder.

When the immune system overreacts in its response to exposure to usually harmless antigens such as pollen, the result is an allergy. The substance that causes these attacks are called allergens. So the next time you sneeze don’t blame the pollens, dust and mold…it’s actually your immune system producing too much IgE, the antibody which stimulates the production of mast cells.

Histamine that is stored in the mast cells are involved in helping the body digest the allergens and dilation of the small blood vessels, excess of which causes the allergic symptoms of teary eyes, swelling and congestion.

Allergic reactions are classified as immediate or delayed. Those occurring within 4 hours are called immediate reactions while those occurring beyond 4 hours are classified as delayed. Immediate reaction involves IgE antibodies and delayed are affected by T cells.

Delayed reaction include skin reactions to poison ivy and other toxic plants, cosmetics, metals and particular foods.   A delayed allergic response does not involve the chemical part of the immune system as does the immediate reaction. It takes time for the signs and symptoms to appear usually appearing after 4 hours as it involves the migration of certain immune system cells to a confrontation with the allergen. It takes time for enough of these immune system cells to migrate to the areas of confrontation

In immediate allergies, allergens react with the antibodies.  These form allergen-antibody complexes that ultimately cause the release of histamine and other chemicals resulting in the allergic response.

What causes this overreaction is due to genetic and lifestyle. You can’t change an inherited predisposition to allergy but you can change your lifestyle and environment to help ease the impact. It has been suggested by Dr. Harold Nelson, MD that early exposure to antibiotics in children, deprive the immune system from developing normally.

Some common allergies are:

  • Asthma : Can be triggered by oversensitivity to pollen, dust mites, molds and animal dander. This respiratory disorder involves an allergic response by the lungs. The bronchial tubes becomes narrow leading to reduce airflow, making it hard to breath and results in wheezing and shortness of breadth.
  • Allergic rhinitis : There are 2 types : perennial or persistent allergic rhinitis which occurs all year round and usually caused by dust mite, animal dander, cockroach droppings and mould, which can be aggravated by smoke and perfume; seasonal or intermittent allergic rhinitis is also known as hayfever. They occur in spring and early summer, when pollen from trees, grass, mould spores and flowers are aplenty.

Symptoms may include nose bleed, headache due to the pressure from inside the nose, reddened, pebbly lining in the lower eyelids, runny, stuffy itchy nose and eyes with frequent sneezing.

  • Drug allergy : Most common symptoms are hives, rashes, stuffy nose, wheezing, dizziness and swelling of body parts.
  • Dust mites : These tiny organisms are actually allergens. They thrive on dead skin cells and its the proteins in the mites and their faeces that causes the allergic reaction. It can cause asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema.
  • Latex allergy :The protein in latex rubber causes allergic reactions in some people. Latex allergy often begins with a rash on the hands following use of rubber gloves, but may also experience respiratory distress, eczema , itchy and swollen eyes, a runny nose and sneezing following latex exposure. Some patients can develop asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Mold allergy : This can cause respiratory symptoms and hayfever-type problems. It is caused by airborne mold spores which are far more numerous than pollen grains.
  • Stinging insect allergy : The insect venom consists of a complex mixture of proteins and peptides. The histamine and serotonin found in the peptides are responsible for the painful skin reactions following a sting. The immune system recognizes these proteins as foreign invaders and mounts an immune reaction against them. Hives, swelling and anaphlylaxis follows.
  • Food allergies : Allergic reactions to food may manifest in the form of nausea, vomiting, flatulence, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea and with non gastrointestinal illnesses such as rashes, eczema, swelling, nasal allergy, wheeze, angioedema and in some cases, even life threatening anaphylaxis. Other symptoms may include flushing, shortness of breath and hives.

Cancer of the Immune System

The last group of malfunction or disorders of the immune system is cancer.

Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control. The cells of the immune system like others can also grow uncontrollably resulting in cancer. Common cancers of the immune system includes lymphona (eg Hodgkin’s disease) affecting the lymphoid tissues/organs and leukemia, which involves abnormal overgrowth of the leukocytes or white blood cells. The uncontrolled growth of antibody producing plasma cells can lead to multiple myeloma.

Although malfunction or disorders of the immune system can’t be prevented, you can help your immune system stay strong by being informed and by working closely with your doctor.