The immune system serves as the body’s defence mechanism. It fights off harmful infection and protects the body against infection. The immune system functions by detecting and attacking bacteria, viruses and other harmful pathogens. A weakened immune system has an increased likelihood to be overwhelmed by infections. For this, a child with a weak immune system is susceptible to infections. Parts of the immune system include the lymph nodes, bone marrows, white blood cells and the thymus. Children who have a weak immune system are said to be ‘immunocompromised’.
So what causes a child to have a weak immune system?
A child may have a weak immune system due to many factors that include:
- Born with a disorder of the immune system, e.g. Human immunodeficiency virus, Chronic granulomatous disease, Severe combined immunodeficiency inflammatory or Primary immune deficiency.
- Developed underlying medical conditions like autoimmune diseases (e.g. scleroderma, lupus, Celiac disease), autoinflammatory diseases (e.g. pyogenic sterile arthritis, Blau syndrome) and cancer.
- Received drugs that suppress the immune system, (e.g. Adalimumab, Myfortic or Sirolimus, corticosteroids )
- Has received therapy like organ transplants which is known to weaken the body’s capacity to fight off infection.
Does a weak immune system mean my child could frequently get sick?
That is true. The fact is that a child with a weak immune system is vulnerable to infections. The immune system works as the body’s soldier, detecting and attacking harmful invaders – germs in our surroundings. A child who has a weak immune system is prone to several common and uncommon childhood infections caused by germs because his immune system cannot adequately safeguard him against invading organisms. A child with a weakened immune system may get seriously ill from a mild infection.
How do I prevent infection in a child with a weak immune system?
Typically, infections spread can spread through bodily contact with an infected person, through air droplets (sneezing, coughing and talking) and through unclean hands after touching dirty surfaces, food and water etc. Since infections are around us, preventing infection in your child should be your topmost priority.
The following steps will help prevent infection in your child:
Frequent hand washing is the simplest, cost-efficient and most effective way to prevent the spread of germs. As a parent, you can imbibe the habit of regular hand washing in your child. Teach your child to lather and scrub his hands after playing, using the restroom and before eating. One way of encouraging frequent hand washing is by turning it into a song or game.
Avoid contact with sick people
Since a child with a weak immune system can get severely ill from a mild infection like flu. It will become necessary to stay away or avoid close contact from family and friends who are sick. Persons who are sick can easily transmit illness.
Limit animal contact
It may become necessary to limit animal contact for children with weak immune systems. Most animals tend to scratch, bite, spit or kick, without being provoked. Make sure your child does not try to pet or play with unfamiliar animals. Zoonoses like rabies can be transmitted from animals.
A live vaccine can be problematic for immunocompromised children because it may cause infection. Seek counsel from your immunologist before immunisation.
Eating a nutritious diet is of high necessity for children with a weak immune system. A nutritious diet will strengthen your child’s immune system to better ward off infections. Make sure your child eats diets that contain vitamins, proteins and iron. This can be found in fruits, veggies and legumes. Try as much as possible to limit food that has high calories, fat and sugar.
Quality sleep time
If your child is not getting enough sleep, it will negatively impact his immune system. Studies have shown that those who do not get enough sleep have a slow recovery rate when they fall sick. Sleep triggers the immune system to produce cytokines which aid the body’s fight against infection. Your child, depending on his age, needs eight to twelve hours of sleep. Children who do not have the right amount of sleep are at risk of becoming obese or diabetic.