Immune System Struggles Can Show Up In These 5 Ways, According To Science

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Our immune system is one of our biggest assets: an army of devoted cells going into battle against threatening bacteria and viruses to keep us healthy every single day. However, a lot of factors can challenge the immune system's functioning. Stress, lack of sleep, various medications, or certain illnesses can create immune system struggles — and when that happens, your body definitely knows it. If you happen to have an immune system that's struggling right now, your body will be sending various signals that display what's going on. Even if you think you're in the bloom of health, if you're showing these symptoms, it may be a sign that all is not well with your immune cells.

The main signal that your immune system is struggling, of course, is how ill you get and how often. If you catch every bug that's going around, and also experience very slow healing time from viral symptoms — taking ages to feel better after the flu, for instance — it's a sign that your immune system isn't coping very well against threats and your protection is compromised. However, there are various other signals that can indicate immune issues, too. Keep an eye on your immune health to make sure you stay as protected as you can.

1. You're Tired All The Time

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Fatigue is a known symptom of autoimmune conditions, where the immune system malfunctions and starts to attack healthy tissues and organs, according to Healthline. Autoimmune conditions are thought to be caused by an overactive immune system that finds threats where there aren't any. However, fatigue in general, without an obvious cause — like a cold or the flu, another virus, exhausting work or lack of sleep — can also be a general signal that your immune system is struggling to combat threats.

2. Your Hands Go White When It's Cold

Circulation problems can be tied to immune system dysfunction. WebMD notes that hands that go easily white when exposed to cold, signifying that they're not getting enough blood flow, are often linked to immune system conditions or disorders. It's not just hands, either; this susceptibility to cold can also affect your nose, ears and toes. This is called Raynaud's phenomenon, and is a signal for autoimmune conditions including lupus and thyroid disorders, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

3. Your Skin Is Itchy And Red

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The skin is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to pathogens entering the body. It's one of the body's epithelial barriers, along with the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and bowel. If you're experiencing a lot of skin irritation where you weren't before — rashes, dermatitis, allergic reactions — it may be a signal that your skin's epithelial barrier is reacting to environmental threats.

It can also be a symptom of new hypersensitivity, where your body develops a fresh allergic reaction to something. In this case, explained Dr. Anna Feldweg at Everyday Health, the immune system is struggling to differentiate threats: it's reacting to perfectly innocent substances "as if these proteins are germs that need to be fought off". Result: skin inflammation and red rashes.

4. You Might Have New Allergies — Or Lose Old Ones

This can seem kind of counter-intuitive: surely if your immune system is weakened, you'd experience fewer allergies, not more? However, the Immune Deficiency Foundation explains that's not always the case, particularly for people who have primary immunodeficiencies or PI. PI are disorders that are often inherited, and interfere with the body's immune functioning. "A typical immune system also needs to know how to stop fighting that infection, and to figure out when it isn’t an infection at all," the Immune Deficiency Foundation said. "So if one part of the immune system isn’t working well at fighting an infection, it also might not work well in preventing another part of the immune system from going rogue."

However, there's another side to this. If your immune system is normally healthy and happens to be struggling right now, that may actually reduce your likelihood of allergies. Weakened allergic reactions may also be a sign of weakened immune function. Dr. Anthony Weido told Everyday Health that "as the immune system weakens, the hyper-allergic reaction also weakens" — meaning that if your immune system is suffering, your allergic reactions may weaken, too. If you experience less hayfever this spring but more colds, it's a signal that your immune system may not be at 100 percent.

5. You Get Recurrent Thrush Or Other Infections

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Can't throw off recurrent issues like thrush? A poorly-functioning immune system might be to blame. Chronic thrush infections are a common issue in people with immunodeficiency disorders, as are infections like pink eye. The body can't seem to rid itself of the bacterial or viral triggers that set off the infection, meaning that they return again and again. Cold sores fall into this category, too.

If you have all these symptoms, it's a good idea to go have some tests done on your immune system, to see if you might have autoimmune issues or another condition that's preventing your immune cells from doing their best. Meanwhile, you can boost your immune system from home by eating a balanced diet, getting exercise and enough sleep, and cleaning your hands and maintaining good hygiene, according to Harvard Health. Your doctor can help you figure out what's happening, so you can treat it as best as you can.