Susceptibility to infections / susceptibility to infections

Susceptibility to infections / susceptibility to infections

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Always sick: susceptibility to infections

Infection susceptibility is usually spoken of if infections with cold-like or flu-like symptoms such as cough, runny nose or sore throat occur more than four times (or 12 times in children) a year. However, this is only in rare cases a "real" immune deficiency such as if you have an antibody deficiency or HIV disease.

Instead, the vulnerability is often caused by a lack of vitamins and minerals, environmental pollution, allergies, intolerance or stress. In addition, various diseases such as diabetes or a thyroid dysfunction are possible, which lead to a weakening of the body's defenses and pathogens more easily get into the body. Accordingly, if symptoms occur frequently or persist for more than two weeks, a doctor should always be consulted in order to rule out more serious illnesses or, if necessary, to treat them early.


If it is cold and wet outside, a flu-like infection with typical symptoms such as runny nose, cough, hoarseness or sore throat quickly develops. But sometimes the cold does not go away as usually after a few days, instead there is a permanent runny nose, limb and headache, sore throat as well as fatigue and a feeling of general weakness. In this case, however, there are serious warning signals from the body, which indicate that something is wrong with the immune system and therefore there is an increased susceptibility to infections.

However, adults are only susceptible to infections if they are affected by inflammatory diseases more often than once a year, which are manifested by colds or flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat and headache, or cough and last for about one to two weeks. In many cases, those affected also feel uncomfortable and increasingly weakened, as can stool changes such as Diarrhea or an increased vaginal discharge in women. If there is a "real" immune deficiency (e.g. due to AIDS, leukemia or a congenital or acquired antibody deficiency), the symptoms mentioned can also be very pronounced, for example, when fever can develop to life-threatening high temperatures with possible serious consequences.

In general, with an increased susceptibility to infections, the respiratory tract is most often affected, which can lead to, for example, a lateral strand angina, inflammation of the pharynx (pharyngitis) or inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis). However, it is possible e.g. also a recurrent conjunctivitis or otitis media or an infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis). If treatment is given here late or even not at all, a mild infection can quickly develop into bronchitis and, in an emergency, into pneumonia.

Causes of constant infections Often, susceptibility to infection is automatically equated with an immune deficiency, since constant cold symptoms such as cough, sore throat and a constantly running nose quickly give the impression of a weakened defense. However, when diagnosing the blood, there is often neither a deficiency of antibodies nor white blood cells; instead, there is often an increased immune activity, which can be caused, for example, by hay fever, allergic asthma or neurodermatitis.

In addition to this, there are a number of other causes for a functional disturbance of the immune system. In addition to stress, this includes e.g. Medicines such as anti-inflammatories (anti-inflammatory drugs), cortisone, certain cancer drugs or antibiotics, which on the one hand have a cell-damaging (cytotoxic) effect and on the other hand weaken or destroy the intestinal flora, which normally acts as a "natural protective shield" against pathogens.

This impairment of the protective function is often also caused by nutritional errors, some of which manifest themselves in childhood (too much sugar, fat, etc.) and thereby damage the intestinal immune system. Other possible causes include stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine or an increased exposure to pollutants such as wood preservatives or pesticides (pesticides), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) or so-called "plasticizers", which include wall paints, varnishes, adhesives, cosmetics and floor coverings can be found.

Age also plays a major role in an increased susceptibility to infections, because children generally have to reckon with infections more often in the early years of their life. The same applies to older people, whose immune systems tend to weaken with age. One reason for this is the gradual decrease in blood stem cells, which primarily affects the cells that are required to maintain the defense against pathogens.

In addition to the "real immune deficiencies" such as AIDS, leukemia, or a congenital or acquired deficiency of antibodies may question some other diseases related to an increased susceptibility to infection. These include, for example, thyroid dysfunction and the so-called “diabetes mellitus”, in which in many cases the immune cells are no longer “strong” enough to fight invading pathogens. The specific symptoms of diabetes, however, depend on the stage of the disease, but typical are also severe thirst, fatigue, cravings for sweets, visual disturbances, frequent urination and itchy rash.

Cause liver cirrhosis

Even with so-called “liver cirrhosis”, susceptibility to infections usually develops. The term usually refers to the end stage of chronic liver diseases, which is characterized by structural changes in the organ ("shrink liver"). Cirrhosis of the liver can have many causes, but in more than half of the cases, alcohol abuse is the trigger, leading to alcohol-related fatty liver. In addition to this, a non-alcohol-related fatty liver e.g. lead to cirrhosis of the liver due to excessive obesity or obesity or diabetes mellitus, and the trigger is often chronic viral hepatitis (usually hepatitis C). Less often, hereditary metabolic diseases can lead to the destruction of the tissue and vascular structure of the liver. These include the copper recovery disorder Wilson's disease, which leads to an increased accumulation of copper in the body. If no appropriate treatment is given here, massive damage such as liver failure, kidney problems or psychological changes (depression, psychosis etc.) can occur.

The so-called "iron storage disease" (hemochromatosis) can in rare cases lead to cirrhosis of the liver and thus to an increased susceptibility to infections. This, mostly genetic, disease is characterized by an increased absorption of iron in the upper small intestine, which in the course of time causes damage to various organs, e.g. Liver, pancreas, heart, spleen, or thyroid. In addition, the pathological condition of the liver can also be caused by the autosomal recessive inherited metabolic disease cystic fibrosis.

The symptoms of shrink liver can vary in form and intensity, depending on the cause, and around a quarter of those affected do not show any symptoms (latent cirrhosis of the liver). In the other cases, at the beginning of the disease there are often more general symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea. In addition, there are characteristic changes in the skin (“liver skin signs”) such as yellow eyes and skin (jaundice), facial veins or vascular spiders on the upper body or neck, itchy skin as well as conspicuously shiny and red lips (“lacquer lips”) and torn corners of the mouth. In addition, other symptoms such as liver pain, fever, bruises or water in the legs (edema) are possible, as well as hormonal disorders in the form of irregular or missed menstrual periods or testicular shrinkage and potency problems.

If the disease is very advanced, complications such as ascites, varicose veins of the esophagus (esophageal varices) or liver cell cancer often occur, which can lead to other specific complaints.

HIV infection / AIDS

Another possible cause of susceptibility to infection is HIV infection, which can develop into the immune deficiency disease AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) after several years. The human immunodeficiency (HI) virus is mainly transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, but possible routes are also infected blood supplies, non-disinfected medical devices or the use of contaminated syringes in the event of drug addiction. If an infection occurs, the person in question is usually referred to as "HIV positive", although it can take months to get the first signs of an acute HIV disease.

If left untreated, the infection usually goes from infection to the onset of AIDS in four stages, in which different symptoms can occur. How long the individual phases last can vary completely from case to case. Usually, flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, headache, fatigue, itchy rash and swelling of the lymph nodes appear three to six weeks after infection. However, since the symptoms are often only weak and disappear relatively quickly, many people do not notice them or mistakenly interpret them as a harmless cold or gastrointestinal flu. Instead, however, the body's immune system already begins to fight the HI viruses in this phase and forms certain antibodies for this purpose, which can be detected in an HIV test about three months after infection.

This acute episode is followed by the so-called "latency phase", during which most of those affected have no symptoms and feel healthy. This phase lasts an average of ten years, during which the virus continues to multiply and the number of immune cells in the blood (T helper cells) decreases continuously. Accordingly, the immune system is increasingly damaged and there is a particularly high risk of infection. This is followed by a third stage of HIV infection in most infected people, because the body's own defense is so severely restricted by the action of the virus that the person concerned has an increased susceptibility to infections with bacteria, viruses or fungi and to certain diseases, but they are not life threatening. Here, too, the symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient, including, among other things, repeated episodes of fever for no apparent reason, persistent diarrhea and fungal infections of the mouth, throat and female genital organs.

This phase can also take years and usually changes to the so-called "full screen AIDS". In this final stage of HIV infection, the immune system is so damaged that it no longer works. Typically, this now leads to diseases that could not occur with a healthy immune system ("opportunistic infections"), such as Pneumonia from the Pneumocystis carinii parasite, repeated Salmonella infections, tuberculosis, hepatitis or inflammation of the brain from toxoplasmas (toxoplasmosis). There are also a number of other possible malignancies that can occur in this terminal stage of HIV infection, such as malignant tumors of the lymphoid tissue (lymphoma) or cervical cancer.

Accordingly, early diagnosis of HIV or AIDS is extremely important. Since the success of the treatment largely depends on the time of its start, an HIV test should be carried out immediately if an infection is suspected. Because although HIV infection and AIDS have so far not been curable, it is now possible to prevent the spread of the virus and to delay the onset of AIDS, which can significantly improve the quality of life of those affected.

Infectivity in children

While adults are said to be susceptible to infections with more than four inflammatory diseases per year, a different rule of thumb applies to babies and children. The background to this is the development of the specific defense system, which begins about three months after birth and is only fully completed in adulthood. Accordingly, in order to build up their specific defense, children first have to go through infections to which the adults are already immune, with each illness or vaccination increasing their own so-called “immunological memory”. Responsible for this are the "memory cells" (also called "memory cells"), which are cells of the immune system that are formed when a previously healthy organism is infected by a pathogen for the first time ("primary infection").

If there is renewed contact with this pathogen, these memory cells are activated, preventing a renewed infection if the immune system is intact. Accordingly, immunological memory is also responsible for the fact that vaccinations remain effective for many years, but also for the fact that allergies may persist throughout life.

Since the immune system is constantly being trained in childhood, it is natural and normal for diseases to occur frequently in this phase of life, whereby children up to the age of four are particularly often affected by respiratory infections. Accordingly, up to ten respiratory tract infections per year are still considered "normal" during this period. Up to pre-school, the high risk of infection in the crèche or kindergarten can even lead to up to 12 illnesses without any cause for concern; school children have this limit of up to 8 infections per year.

However, if symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, bronchitis or other signs of a cold occur more frequently or if they persist for an exceptionally long time, children are said to be susceptible to infections, which must always be clarified and treated by a pediatrician.

Susceptibility to infection thyroid

An increased susceptibility to infection is often caused by an underactive thyroid, which is characterized by an insufficient supply of the organism with thyroid hormones. Such a deficiency can be congenital or acquired in the course of life, and the underactive function can only be weak or very pronounced (latent or manifest hypothyroidism). Accordingly, the symptoms of an underactive thyroid can be very different, but besides the susceptibility to infections, chronic fatigue, lack of drive, poor concentration and visual changes such as straw hair, cool, dry, pale yellowish skin, brittle nails or a significant weight gain are typical. There are also signs such as loss of appetite, slow pulse, cycle disorders, constipation or increased sensitivity to cold.

The causes of an underactive thyroid are also diverse. In the case of congenital hypothyroidism, for example, the hormone gland may not be properly trained or may even be missing completely, or there may be a genetic iodine dysfunction.However, in most cases, an underactive function is acquired in the course of life, the most common cause being an inflammation of the thyroid gland ( Thyroiditis), which occurs mainly as a result of what is known as "Hashimoto's thyroiditis". It is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in humans, primarily affecting women over the age of 40 and the exact causes of which have not yet been clarified.

It is characteristic, however, that the body mistakenly regards its own thyroid as foreign tissue and thus begins to produce antibodies against it. As a result, there is a chronic inflammation, which destroys the thyroid tissue, which in turn gradually leads to an underactive thyroid.

In addition to this, an acquired underfunction can also have other causes that lead to the loss or destruction of functional thyroid tissue. For example, measures to treat hyperthyroidism such as radiation to the thyroid, medication (thyroid drugs) or radioiodine therapy can be considered, which can lead to an underactive function. In addition to this, it can also happen that the function of the thyroid gland itself is not disturbed, but the subfunction, e.g. caused by pituitary gland disorders (secondary hypothyroidism). The hypothalamus can also be affected (tertiary hypothyroidism) because the so-called thyrotropin-releasing hormones (TRH) are no longer formed sufficiently.

Constant infections from stress

Acute as well as chronic psychological and physical stress can influence the functions of the immune defense and thereby lead to a susceptibility to infections. Among other things, this is due to the fact that the body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline during emotional and mental stress, whereupon the heart pumps faster and with greater pressure to ensure performance and energy. To a certain extent, this is therefore a completely natural and normal process. However, if there is a permanent burden and thus a constant release of these so-called "stress hormones", chronic high blood pressure can develop, which in turn can cause arterial calcification and thus even a heart attack in an emergency. In addition, too high cortisol inhibits the immune system. On the one hand, this is positive in order to protect the body from inflammatory reactions, but on the other hand it can also lead to an increased susceptibility to infections, which is often exacerbated by lack of sporting activities or stress-related sleep disorders.

Accordingly, it is extremely important for mental and physical health to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between relaxation and relaxation and to reduce negative stress as well as possible or to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. There are a number of effective methods and techniques for reducing stress, such as yoga, autogenic training or breathing exercises. If the stress cannot be managed in this way, appropriate life counseling or psychotherapy is also suitable in some cases, in which deeper conflicts and problems can be worked on and solved.

Susceptibility to infection treatment

When treating an increased susceptibility to infections, it is particularly important to have an optimal and nutrient-rich diet, whereby severe deficiency conditions sometimes require a targeted intake of vital substances or, in some cases, an infusion at the beginning. If an allergy is possible for the "malfunction" of the immune system, this must first be e.g. can be identified with a skin test on the forearm or on the back (prick test), in order to then be able to avoid the triggering allergens if possible (allergen avoidance).

In addition to this, a variety of allergy medications (e.g. antihistamines, cortisone) come into question, but they can only fight the symptoms and may also have side effects such as tiredness, visual disturbances and nausea (with antihistamines) or high blood pressure, bone loss and weight gain (cortisone ) being able to lead. The so-called "hyposensitization", on the other hand, is used as the causal therapy, in which the allergy sufferer is supplied with the corresponding allergen in successively increasing doses in order to get used to it in this way. Even in the event of possible drug intolerance or increased exposure to pollutants, it is important to first identify the specific cause in order to avoid damaging influences in the future and to be able to develop new or alternative treatment options together with the treating doctor.

If the susceptibility to infection is caused by a disease, the focus should first be on treating it. Accordingly, therapy for hypothyroidism is carried out, for example, with drugs that replace the missing thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). In order to compensate for the deficiency and thus to alleviate or combat the symptoms, in most cases the tablets must be taken continuously for a lifetime. If there is also an iodine deficiency, this is compensated for by additional iodine. Preparations are administered with synthetically produced thyroxine, which corresponds to the natural thyroid hormone T4, whereas the hormone T3 is produced in the body itself from T4 to the required extent.

If it is congenital hypothyroidism, the compensation of the missing hormones must begin as soon as possible to avoid developmental disorders or consequential damage in the child. Accordingly, every newborn baby is routinely examined for hypothyroidism in this country for early diagnosis in the first few days of life (newborn screening).

If there is a disorder, therapy can be started immediately and it can be ensured that the affected children can develop physically and mentally as normal. Although an iodine deficiency is only rarely responsible for the underfunction, it is nevertheless advisable to always ensure an adequate iodine supply. Sea fish such as plaice, saithe or cod is particularly suitable for this, as it contains a lot of iodine and should therefore be on the menu two or three times a week, especially for people with an increased need for iodine (pregnant women, breastfeeding women). If you only rarely or never eat fish and otherwise eat a low-salt diet, you can also take iodine supplements if necessary to ensure an adequate supply of the trace element. The individual dosage and the duration of the intake should always be discussed in detail with a doctor beforehand.

Naturopathy for susceptibility to infections

If a serious illness could be excluded as the cause of the increased susceptibility to infection, naturopathy also offers a variety of treatment options, which can be used either in parallel or in part as an alternative to conventional therapy measures. In any case, however, a consultation with a naturopath or a naturopathic doctor should always take place beforehand in order to make the most of the possibilities and avoid health risks.

In many cases, for example, what is known as “autologous blood therapy” has proven to be helpful, in which blood is first drawn from the body and then re-injected after various forms of treatment. An intestinal rehabilitation or Detoxification makes sense to strengthen the immune system and thereby provide greater resistance to pathogens. In the first step, the intestine is e.g. freed of any harmful ballast using an enema, which is usually carried out in the form of a cure for a period of about two to four weeks.

This is followed by the actual “cleansing” of the intestine, although there are numerous options for this, which should be selected individually with a naturopath depending on the initial situation of the person concerned and the symptoms. Examples include the administration of lactic acid-producing germs such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria or the taking of psyllium husks, through which toxins are bound and the body can be supported in regeneration.

In addition, susceptibility to infections can often be significantly reduced by the high-dose use of missing vital substances (orthomolecular medicine). An intensification of this effect is also often achieved through the use of other individually tailored alternative medical treatment methods. Here, homeopathy and acupuncture come into consideration, but also various medicinal plants such as elderberry or horseradish, which can contribute to strengthening the defense against infections. To alleviate acute symptoms, there are also various home remedies for cough, such as Quark wraps, hay flower bags or a soothing full bath with eucalyptus or spruce needles. Other home remedies for colds can also help to soothe the dripping nose in acute cases and thus ensure greater well-being and free breathing. (No)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Social Science Nina Reese


  • Craig R. Pringle: Grippal Infection, MSD Manual, (accessed September 25, 2019), MSD
  • Michael Herzog, Eva Lang, Jürgen Sengebusch: Differential diagnosis for naturopaths, Haug Verlag, 1st edition, 2010
  • Hans-Georg Boenninghaus, Thomas Lenarz: Otorhinolaryngology, Springer, 2012
  • Siegfried Hoc: Psychoneuroimmunology: Stress increases susceptibility to infections, PP 2, February 2003 edition, page 83
  • German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine e. V. (DGKJ): My child has infections all the time, (accessed September 25, 2019), DGKJ

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