UA logo Allergy and Asthma in the
Southwestern United States
Information for patients with allergy and related problems
in the Southwest

What is immunodeficiency?

In this problem there is a lack of adequate defense against infection caused by a defective immune system.  The immune system can be damaged by certain viruses such as HIV (causing AIDS), by certain anti-cancer drugs or by excessive X-irradiation.  It can be defective in severely premature babies or become defective in advanced old age.  Primary immunodeficiency is caused by defective genes that control the development and function of the immune system, usually resulting in frequent, serious infections in childhood or early adult life.

Does frequent infection mean that you have immunodeficiency?

Fortunately, this is usually NOT the case for minor infections with viruses.  Frequent colds and other self-limited respiratory infections are almost never caused by serious immunodeficiency:  the usual cause of frequent sinus infection and chronic cough is allergy and/or asthma.   Exposure to tobacco smoke, day care and formula feeding of infants are all known to increase the frequency of infection in children.

Primary Immunodeficiency

  • Suggestive evidence of primary immunodeficiency includes
    -  unusual, frequent and/or severe infections with viruses, parasites, fungi or bacteria
    -  recurrent or persistent sinus and bronchial infection not caused by cystic fibrosis or allergy
    -  a family history of primary immunodeficiency 
  • Accurate, early diagnosis and appropriate therapy is vital to the survival of children with primary immunodeficiency.  To minimize risk of life-threatening and debilitating infection and to provide proper genetic counseling, patients with immunodeficiency diseases are best investigated and managed by a Board-Certified pediatric immunologist who is experienced and specializes in the diagnosis and management of these rare diseases.  

Further reading:
Publications on Primary Immunodeficiency by the Immune Deficiency Foundation
AAAAI:   Recurrent infections
Also see immunodeficiency internet links

Disclaimer:   This site is for educational purposes only.  Any information that you have found in this web site is not intended to replace medical care or advice given to you by your own physicians. You should consider consulting your local medical library and other web sites for additional information. 

Comments and suggestions welcome!   Email:
Content Owner:  Michael J. Schumacher, MB, FRACP, The University of Arizona

Updated 2/2012