The word ‘immune’ (pronounced ih-myoon) actually means to be protected. Our immune systems work in the body to fight off illness and sickness. It is a network of tissues, organs and cells that all work together to keep us healthy.
Part of our immune defense system are the white blood cells “leukocytes” (pronounced LOO-kuh-sytes). These are germ-fighting cells that come in two types:
Phagocytes (pronounced: FAH-guh-sytes), which eat up invading germs
lymphocytes (pronounced: LIM-fuh-sytes), they give the body the ability to recognize and remember any of the invaders of the past.
You will find leukocytes in many places in the body. This includes the spleen, which is an organ in the belly area that helps to fight infections by filter blood. Leukocytes are also found in the bone marrow, the thick spongy jelly like center of the bones.
Another important location for germ-fighting cells is the lymphatic systems (lim-FAH-tik). If you ever had a cold or flu that made you glands at your neck swell, you encountered the lymphatic system. They are actually misnamed ‘glands’ because they are actually lymph nodes. They contain immune system cells that are gathered in clusters. When they are in normal condition they are round and small and you really don’t notice them.
Lymph nodes are the filtering system of the body to remove germs that can make you ill. Lymph nodes and the little channels that connect them to each other in a kind of network all contain clear fluid with leukocytes in them.
Just because you have this wonderful immune system in place, doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick. Your immune system kicks in to give you extra protection but sometimes the illness is stronger than your body can handle and even the immune system isn’t enough.
Lots of people have major and minor immune system problems. Allergies are one kind of immune system problem. When you are around or consume something that you are allergic to, the body goes into overdrive thinking something harmful has entered the system. The reaction of the immune system itself can be so strong that it is sometimes dangerous.
Some people have allergies to peanuts or shellfish that can cause the immune system to overcompensate. This can lead them into a deadly condition known as anaphylactic shock. (ANNa-fil-lactic)
People that think they are allergic to cat fur or dander are actually allergic to something else. When a cat licks their fur to clean themselves they leave a small lightweight chemical on their fur. When it dries, it becomes airborne and that is what people are allergic to.
Sometimes the immune system actually gets things backwards. Certain medical conditions such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can cause the immune system to fight the good cells in the body.
Some of the more serious immune system disorders can be treated with medicine so that the person feels healthier.
A doctor that specialized in the immune system is called an immunologist (ih-myoon-ALL-oh-jist) An immunologist works with their patients to discover what the problem is within the immune system. Sometimes it is as simple as discovering an allergy while other times it may be that the body is not producing enough leukocytes or any other array of situations.
Everyone can help their immune system to do its job by eating healthy foods, washing your hands to prevent infections, getting enough sleep and exercise and seeing you doctor for regular examinations.