Of course, all of these things can make you feel really unwell. Experts say, depending on your specific infection, you may deal with typical cold and flu symptoms like a cough, fever, or body aches; digestion problems like cramping, nausea, or diarrhoea; pain; sudden weight loss; and fatigue. These symptoms, among many others, can stem from the infections directly or from the frequent need to take certain medications like antibiotics, according to Kara Wada, MD, an allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Being sick a lot also affects your ability to regularly go to school or work, take care of your family or yourself, tend to your relationships, and just live your everyday life, Dr. Jackson says.6 All of this can understandably take an emotional toll, triggering feelings like stress, irritability, sadness, and anxiety.
What are some causes of recurrent infections?
Certain habits can increase your chances of getting sick more frequently, including smoking cigarettes, not getting enough sleep, and not managing heavy or chronic stress—but these factors won’t directly cause recurrent infections.
To start, your anatomy could potentially be to blame. For example, research shows that having a “structural” problem like a deviated septum (a displacement of the wall of cartilage and bone between your nostrils) can cause trouble in your nasal passages and open you up to more frequent sinus infections.7,8
Some underlying conditions, like poorly controlled diabetes or asthma, also bump your risk, Dr. Jackson says. If you do have a chronic condition, certain treatments that can help manage it—say, chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medications like oral steroids—can weaken your immune system’s defences.
And while they’re fairly rare, you should be aware of primary immunodeficiency diseases (PIDDs), which are characterised by an increased susceptibility to infections. This is a diverse group of nearly 500 conditions that often have a genetic component, and each one affects at least one part of the immune system’s ability to function.9 They easily go undiagnosed—and it can take doctors years to confirm a diagnosis when they do ID one.10
“Many PIDDs [lead to] repeated or deep infections that occur in unusual places,” says Barrie Cohen, MD, an immunologist and assistant professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “However, the type of infection—bacterial, viral, or fungal—will vary based on which part of the immune system is not working properly.”
When to see a doctor if you’re constantly sick
If you’re regularly feeling run down and missing work or school, can’t show up as a spouse or parent, or generally notice a dip in your quality of life because of your infections, it’s time to talk to your GP about what’s going on. They should ask about your personal and family health history and do a physical exam, along with certain tests like blood work, depending on your symptoms, Dr. Wada says. From there, you may be referred to an immunologist or another specialist if needed.
In addition to doing everything possible to support your immune system—like eating well, moving your body, and staying up to date on vaccines—there are treatments available that can help if you are diagnosed with a condition that’s making you more susceptible to illness.
We all get sick—it’s just a part of life! But dealing with infection after infection is not normal for most adults. Talking to a doctor can help you get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later, so you have a clear plan next time an unpleasant bug decides to stir up symptoms.
This story originally appeared on Self.