What is the immune system?
The immune system is a collection of organs, tissues, and cells within an organism’s body that protects it from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other things that would otherwise get you sick.
What are the different parts of the immune system?
The immune system has a special transport network called the lymphatic system. Its job is to get rid of wastes, toxins and other unwanted and harmful substances. Within the lymphatic system, there are many specialized cells, tissues, and organs including:
- Lymph nodes: Small organs that store and create cells that fight off infections and diseases. When you are sick, your lymph nodes become more active and get larger.
- Thymus: Organ where some immune cells mature.
- Spleen: Contains white blood cells and controls the amount of blood circulating inside the body. It gets rid of damaged and old blood cells.
- Bone marrow: Found in the center of bones and produces white blood cells used for fighting infections.
- Lymphocytes: These are white blood cells that defend the body. There are two different kinds – T cells and B cells. B cells detect and alert the body to the presence of invaders like bacteria and viruses. They also create antibodies so the body is ready the next time the attackers come. T cells help to destroy the invaders
- Leukocytes: Leukocytes are white blood cells that defend the body by identifying invaders and eliminating them.
Immune System Disorders:
Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s own immune system mistakes its own body for a foreign invader and attacks it. One example is Type I Diabetes
- Type I Diabetes: Disease in which the body attacks its own pancreatic cells at birth, destroying them and preventing the body from ever producing insulin which is needed to absorb sugar from food.
Allergies occur when the body mistakenly attacks a foreign substance that is otherwise harmless such as mold, dust, peanuts and/or pollen. These types of reactions can lead to anaphylactic shock leaving the victim unable to breathe.
Over and under-reactive immune systems:
Although not an allergy, asthma is similar as your body overreacts to a harmless substance such as pollen, tobacco smoke, or dust. This causes your airways to close up leading to a cough, wheezing and trouble breathing.
If you are born with an under-reactive immune system or develop it (someone with AIDS by definition has an under-reactive immune system) you can become very sick due to something that most people can fight off easily. These otherwise mild or short-lived infections can be fatal.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood-producing cells (bone marrow), mainly the white blood cells that make up the immune system. In people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells that don’t work properly. Treatments usually involve chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and radiation therapy.
How are diseases of the immune system diagnosed and treated?
Doctors specializing in the immune system are called immunologists or allergists. In order to test the ability of the immune system, they will take blood samples and determine the amounts of the various immune system agents such as T cells, B cells, etc.
There are different treatments to help people with immune system diseases. If someone has an overactive immune system, they may be prescribed medications that help them reduce their immune system’s response. If someone has an underactive immune system, they could be prescribed medications that help them make up for the under activity of their immune system.
What can you do to help your immune system?
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep
- Wash your hands after using the restroom
Interesting Immune System Facts:
- Although unpleasant, having a fever when you’re sick is a good thing because it shows that your immune system is doing its job!
- A lack of sleep or too much stress can suppress your immune system and cause you to get sick.
- Exercise and having a positive attitude decreases your stress levels and improves your immune system.
- Vaccines don’t prevent your immune system from developing properly. They allow your immune system to create antibodies so if the virus or bacteria ever gets in, your body can fight it off much more easily.
- White blood cells only make up about 1% of your entire blood supply!
- Your immune system remembers. Once an infection is defeated, the B cells keep a small portion of the infection so that if it ever comes back, it will be able to recognize it much more quickly and therefore, fight it off faster.
- “In the U.S., approximately three million people report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Studies show the number of children living with peanut allergy appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.” Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)
Immune System: A collection of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to protect the body.
Tissues: Collection of cells that perform a similar function.
Cells: The basic structure of livings things. Humans have trillions of cells that perform the functions of life.
Mature: Are now able to perform a certain function or role inside the body.
Antibodies: Proteins that help identify and target foreign substances to be removed.
Anaphylactic shock: An extreme and possibly fatal response by the immune system to a harmless substance.
Facts and Statistics. Retrieved July 25, 2016, from https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats
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Human Immune System – Diagram – How It Works. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/38028-how-the-human-body-s-immune-system-works-infographic.html
Immune System: Diseases, Disorders & Function. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/26579-immune-system.html
Leukemia. (n.d.). Retrieved July 25, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/leukemia/basics/definition/con-20024914
NIH. (n.d.). Diabetes, type 1 – Genes and Disease – NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22256/
NIH. (n.d.). Diseases of the Immune System – Genes and Disease – NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22243/