October 29, 2015

Immune Problems Causing ENT Problems

The immune system is what helps a body fight off infections. However, the immune system can also cause problems when it does not work properly resulting in symptoms and misery.

Within our bodies float millions of tiny cells called White Blood Cells (aka, leukocytes) which are the soldiers that look for and destroy any abnormal cells or germs. Other proteins in the blood called immunoglobulins (aka, antibodies) are like free-floating drones that immediately stick on to any abnormal cells or germs to "mark" it for destruction by the white blood cells, kind of like a homing beacon.

When everything works, health is perfect. However, for whatever reason, the immune system can start to work abnormally. Lets take a look at the ways the immune system can become dysfunctional.


Allergies is when the immune system starts attacking pollen and other "normal" stuff like its an infection to be destroyed... except it's hard to destroy something that is present everywhere all the time. That's why sometimes someone with bad allergies may look like someone who has a bad viral upper respiratory infection.

As most people know, allergies cause a great deal of sino-nasal suffering with sneezing, runny nose, congestion, etc.

Autoimmune Diseases

Such diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's, sarcoidosis, Wegener's, etc. Such diseases occur when the immune system starts attacking normal cells in the body like it's an intruder to be destroyed. For example, the normal joints in rheumatoid arthritis are attacked by the immune system. In Sjogren's disease, the normal salivary glands are attacked by the immune system.

Why this happens is unclear, but rheumatologists are the specialists who deal with these conditions.

From an ENT perspective, autoimmune disorders may manifest as recurrent nosebleeds, nasal congestion, growths or lesions in the throat/mouth, etc.


When there are not enough white blood cells floating around or the white blood cells themselves become abnormal, a state of immunodeficiency is present. This condition also applies when there are lower than normal amounts of immunoglobulins. With fewer "soldiers" around, infections happen more frequently and severely.

Often immunodeficiency is manifested by chronic, recurrent sinus and ear infections. So when the typical medical and surgical treatments do not work, an immunodeficiency may be present.

HIV/AIDS is one type of immunodeficiency caused when the HIV virus kills off the white blood cells.

Selective IgA Deficiency (SIgAD) is another form of immunodeficiency... in fact it is the most common type occurring in 1 in 333 people.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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