Cold, Flu, & Cough: Symptoms of Immune System Problems

Immune system problems can lead to allergic reactions and other symptoms.

What Are Immune System Problems?

Your immune system should fight off disease and help your body heal. But your immune system can be weak, underactive, overactive, or even attack your body by mistake. Immune system problems can cause symptoms, allergic reactions, or persistent illnesses.

Dry or gritty eyes may be a symptom of Sjögren's syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition.

Dry or Gritty Eyes

Very dry eyes can be a sign of immune system problems. In Sjögren's syndrome, your immune system dries up tears that keep eyes moist. Your eyes are dry, red, and may feel like you have grit or sand in them. You can develop blurry vision or even cornea damage.

High levels of cytokines in the brain may lead to depression.

Depression

Depression can be a sign of immune system problems. A faulty immune system can send inflammatory cells called cytokines to your brain. They lower your levels of chemicals like serotonin that lift your mood. The good news: Exercise can boost serotonin, lessen inflammation, and help ease your depression.

Eczema is an allergic skin rash and a sign of an overactive immune system.

Skin Rash

Eczema's itchy rash is an allergic reaction that means your immune system is overactive. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are diseases linked to a faulty immune system. Your immune system attacks your own skin cells with inflammation. This can cause red, flaky, painful blotches called plaques.

Gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease can be a sign of immune system dysfunction.

Stomach or Bowel Problems

Stomach and bowel symptoms may be signs of an immune symptom problem. Diarrhea, belly pain, bloating, and weight loss are symptoms of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease -- conditions driven by your immune system.

If your hands or feet turn white in the cold it could be due to Raynaud's disease, which is an autoimmune condition.

Cold Hands and Feet

Do your hands and feet turn white or blue in the cold? In Raynaud's disease, blood flow to hands and feet may slow down in cold temperatures, causing skin to feel cold and change colors. It's an autoimmune condition. Cold hands and feet could mean your thyroid gland is underactive due to your immune system.

A type of hair loss called alopecia areata, is due to immune system problems.

Hair Loss

Your immune system can attack your hair at the root and damage it, causing alopecia areata, or hair loss. Hair may fall out in small patches on your head or anywhere on your body. Other immune system problems like plaque psoriasis on your scalp can cause patchy hair loss too.

Sun may cause immune system flare-ups in people with lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

Sun Sensitivity

Immune system problems can make you very sensitive to sunlight. If you have lupus, your skin may burn easily from even brief sun exposure. Sun on your skin can cause an immune system flare-up of all lupus symptoms, so always wear hats, sunglasses, cover-ups, and high SPF sunscreen to protect yourself.

Suddenly stiff and painful joints may be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

Joint Pain

Suddenly painful, swollen, stiff joints may be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In RA, your immune system inflames tissue lining your joints. This causes severe joint pain.

Slow healing wounds may be a sign of immune system dysfunction.

Wounds Slow to Heal

If your immune system is sluggish, minor wounds like a cut, burn, or scrape may be slow to heal. A healthy immune system reacts quickly to a wound and sends nutrients to promote healing. If your wounds take a long time to get better, your immune system may be underactive.

Frequent infections like sinusitis, ear infections or pneumonia may be a sign of immune deficiency.

You Get Sick All the Time

Frequent infections like colds or flu also could be signs of an underactive immune system. If you have four or more yearly ear infections, chronic sinus infections, pneumonia twice in one year, or you need antibiotics twice a year or more often, you could have an immune deficiency.

Fatigue may be a symptom of a sluggish immune system.

Fatigue

You may feel tired after lots of activity. But if you're wiped out often, even when you do get sleep, you may have a sluggish immune system. Fatigue is when you're so exhausted you can't even walk across the room. An overactive immune system may trigger inflammation that causes this severe tiredness.

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REFERENCES:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Disorders of the Immune System."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Immune System," "Why Are My Hands and Feet Always Cold—and Should I Worry?"
  • Mayo Clinic: "Psoriatic arthritis," "Crohn's disease," "Ulcerative colitis," "Celiac disease," "Hypothyroidism," "Sjögren's syndrome," "Osteoarthritis."
  • Hospital for Special Surgery: "Psoriasis vs. Psoriatic Arthritis: What's the Difference?"
  • Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders in Patients with Primary Immunodeficiency."
  • American Academy of Dermatology: "Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Overview," "Scalp Psoriasis: 10 Ways to Reduce Hair Loss."
  • University of Michigan Health: "Skin's Immune 'Alarm' May Explain UV-Induced Rashes in People with Lupus."
  • Lupus Foundation of America: "UV Exposure: What You Need to Know."
  • CDC: "Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)."
  • Penn Medicine: "6 Signs You Have a Weakened Immune System."
  • Frontiers in Immunology: "Fatigue, Sleep, and Autoimmune and Related Disorders."
  • Current Immunology Review: "The concept of depression as a dysfunction of the immune system."
  • Journal of Depression and Anxiety: "Immune System Function and Its Relation to Depression: How Exercise Can Alter the Immune System-Depression Dynamics."
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