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Immunoglobulin A Deficiency

What is IgA deficiency?

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is a blood protein that?s part of your immune system. Your body makes IgA to help fight off sickness.

IgA is found in mucous membranes, mainly in the respiratory and GI tracts, and in saliva, tears, and breast milk. It seems to play a part in asthma and allergies. Researchers have also linked IgA to autoimmune health problems. These are health problems in which your body?s own immune system attacks your body by mistake.

Having an IgA deficiency means that you have low levels or no immunoglobulin A in your bloodstream. 

What causes IgA deficiency?

IgA deficiency is a health problem passed down through families. This means it is genetic. In rare cases, it can be caused by medicines you are taking.

What are the symptoms of IgA deficiency?

Most people with an IgA deficiency don?t have any symptoms of the health problem. It?s usually found on a blood test, if it?s found at all. Some people with an IgA deficiency are more likely to getting frequent infections. These can include sinus, lung, and GI infections. Some IgA deficiency patients also are more prone to allergies, GI, and autoimmune problems such as Celiac disease or lupus. 

How is IgA deficiency diagnosed?

If IgA deficiency runs in your family and you have some of the above symptoms, you might be at risk. Blood tests can be used to see if IgA is missing in your blood.

How is IgA deficiency treated?

There is no cure for IgA deficiency. Immunotherapy does not work to treat it. But you can take steps to lessen your risk for illness or infection. These include taking antibiotics when you get sick. If infections are ongoing (chronic), daily antibiotics may be needed.

What are the complications of IgA deficiency?

Potential complications can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Sinusitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Eye infection
  • Ear infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin infection
  • Asthma

Can IgA deficiency be prevented?

Because IgA deficiency is usually a problem that is passed down through your family, you can?t do anything to prevent it. But you can limit the spread of germs and sickness by washing your hands often and avoiding large crowds. This is especially true during cold and flu season. Also, talk with your health care provider about vaccinations that may help and when you should get them.

If you have immunoglobulin A deficiency and are worried about the risks of passing it on to your children, talk with a genetic counselor. 

Key points

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is a blood protein that?s part of your immune system. IgA is found in mucous membranes, especially in the respiratory and GI tracts. It is also found in saliva, tears, and breast milk.

  • IgA appears to play a part in asthma and allergies.
  • IgA deficiency is a genetic health problem passed down through families.
  • Most people with an IgA deficiency don?t have any symptoms.
  • Blood tests can be used to see if IgA is missing from your blood.
  • There is no cure for IgA deficiency. Immunotherapy does not work to treat it.
  • There can be complications for IgA deficiency that include asthma, diarrhea, ear and eye infections, and pneumonia.
  • Because IgA deficiency is usually an inherited problem, you can?t do anything to prevent it.
  • You can limit the spread of germs and illnesses by washing your hands often and avoiding large crowds especially during the cold and flu season.

 

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
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