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What Is IgA Deficiency?

A blood test will help diagnose IgA deficiency.
People with IgA deficiency often have asthma.
Immunoglobulins are proteins formed by white blood cells that act as antibodies.
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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IgA deficiency, often called selective immunoglobulin A deficiency, is a type of immune disease. Generally, this genetic condition is fairly mild and affects about one in every 400 to 2,000 people. This condition occurs most often in those of European descent, and it occurs far less often in those of African and Asian decent. Of all the diseases classified as primary immunodeficiencies, this immune disorder is the most common. A person diagnosed with the disease has a complete lack of IgA (an antibody) or a markedly low level of it.

IgA deficiency is often a genetic disorder, though there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, there are some people who seem to develop the deficiency in response to certain types of medication. The condition has been found in people with Wilson's disease who are treated with penicillamine. It has also been found in those taking Dilantin (phenytoin/hydantoin) to treat seizures. Fortunately, drug-induced IgA is not permanent. Its symptoms end once these drugs are discontinued.

Many people with IgA deficiency are symptom-free. For others, however, the disease rears its ugly head in the form of a wide range of recurrent illnesses, ranging from ear infections and pneumonia to eye infections and gastrointestinal disorders. Infections of the throat are also common, and thrush is one frequent culprit. Unfortunately, these infections tend to take longer to clear in those with IgA deficiency, even when they are treated with highly effective antibiotics.

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Allergies are also issues for those with this condition. Often, they are severe and difficult to treat. A person with this disease may struggle with both respiratory and food allergies, and severe asthma is a common problem. When a person with IgA deficiency has asthma, typical medical therapies may not work as well. Those with food allergies often have recurring diarrhea and stomach cramping as symptoms.

IgA deficiency is typically present at birth, though some cases aren't discovered until much later in life. Usually, the disease is diagnosed when doctors run tests to discover the cause of recurring infections and chronic illnesses. To determine whether a person has IgA deficiency, doctors use blood tests to detect Ig and IgG2. If a person has this condition, he will have low amounts of IgA antibodies but normal amounts of other antibodies, including IgM and IgG. Sometimes, doctors will also give a patient an immunization and then test how well the body makes antibodies against the particular bacteria.

Currently, there is no treatment or cure for IgA deficiency. Instead, doctors work to treat the repetitive illnesses typical of this condition. Antibiotics are often employed, and patients can help themselves by eating well and getting plenty of rest. It's also a good idea to avoid contact with people with contagious illnesses, including colds, whenever possible.

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Discuss this Article

anon925467
Post 32

My son is 14 and for years he's had problems, but doctors kept fobbing us off, but recently a consultant tested for iga and it's low, which would explain a lot. But now I don't know what to do. What should be done about this? Now he is being referred to immunology but what will they do? Should I be worried?

anon356515
Post 31

I am 52 years old and have been told for many years that I have some kind of autoimmune problem. I have never tested positive for an autoimmune disorder. But the symptoms were varied and have gotten worse over the years. It started when my platelets dropped to 20,000 24 years ago. After dealing with that it was horrible neuropathy in my feet, joint pain, (with a knee replacement in 2008)

I also had frequent sinus, otitis,throat and lung infections. Finally in 2012 I was diagnosed with selective IGA deficiency. I have been on weekly Azithromycin for the past year. Since being on the antibiotic no more infections. But being on antibiotics causes other problems. I tried going off the antibiotic a few months ago. Within seven days I got pneumonia. I'm looking into different diets like vegan and gluten free. I'm getting tested for celiac on Dec 10. I'm hoping to find some answers.

I also have been taking lots of antibiotics and different vitamins. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I have to find something. On top of all that I'm a pediatric nurse. I'm afraid that I may need to find a different line of work.

anon336973
Post 30

I am 33 years old. I was diagnosed with very low IgA about two years ago after being sick for so long. I used to have bronchitis and pneumonia and I also had legionella! Now I'm taking intravenous infusions every four weeks of Intratect. It's human normal immunoglobulin. I've been feeling really great. I only had minor colds for the past year.

I have to continue taking them for the rest of my life but it don't care because I feel really good. I'm lucky to receive them for free in my country as they cost a lot. I hope someone finds this helpful.

anon330659
Post 29

I was diagnosed with IgA deficiency at least 10 years ago and after seeing an Internist, then a gastroenterologist, I was sent to an immunologist who basically said that this is so common that everyone tries to link a disorder to it. He basically said not to worry about it.

For those having issues and it seems like a lot, I wouldn't look to this as being your answer.

anon311309
Post 28

My understanding is that reishi mushroom extract and homeopathic meds can help the immune system. My iga was at 00. The docs did nothing except tell me I did not have celiac disease, then the thyroid doctor told me it was probably a false negative. Since then, I have discovered why, and suddenly, I am losing teeth that have been well taken care of, getting lots of infections, and am now in a rehab center for c-diff. after knee surgery.

I believe there are ways to boost the immune system by not overdrawing the adrenals, rest, less stress and good nutrition. It has helped to avoid carbs such as white flour, rice and potatoes. I pay on days when i eat those. My best wishes and blessings to those who have this.

anon310465
Post 27

Make sure you have a doctor who is educated about IgA and all that goes with it. I had a doctor suggest that I was "emotionally dependent" on antibiotics. Seriously. I'm a teacher by profession, too. Wish I had known what I had before I started teaching.

anon301272
Post 26

My son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, IBS, and IGA Deficiency at age 15. He has been sick twice in his entire life - once with pneumonia, and once with an ear infection that perforated his eardrum. When he gets sick, he does it right! Those are the only two times he has been on an antibiotic - once as a toddler, and once as a teenager.

His immunologist said that the reason he hasn't had chronic illness, or isn't autistic, is because I did not vaccinate him. He said vaccinations cause this massive immune response, and people with IGA definitely cannot handle the "storm". Thank God I didn't vaccinate. This disease sounds so horrible! I didn't believe his diagnosis at first, because he does not have the symptoms you all have. But many blood tests have proven it.

I have switched our family's diet to gluten-free, and we have always eaten whole foods and organic foods. He was also breastfed for two years. I hope our experience with this may help someone else. I pray his good health continues.

anon299906
Post 25

I was diagnosed with an IGA deficiency at the age of 15. I am now 39. I have always had severe seasonal allergies, bronchitis and pneumonia several times each year, severe sinus infections which have caused me to have four sinus surgeries and a tonsillectomy since 1991, low iron, had a bout with viral hepatitis that fortunately went away, have severe IBS and colitis,had a thymoma which seems to go along with IGA deficient patients (and luckily it has shrunk so I don't have to have it removed), and have at least two to four hospital stays each year. I stay on high doses of antibiotics a good bit, and I'm a teacher. So, I do stay sick a lot.

I have a 12 year old son, who I think may have this deficiency too. He stays sick a lot with sinus, ear, and respiratory infections. He also has fever blisters terribly! When I was pregnant with him, I had an awesome pregnancy but a not so good delivery. I had that shot too because I have O Negative blood. About two years ago, I had a tubal pregnancy and was bleeding in my abdomen. I had to have emergency surgery and was give two bags of blood due to losing so much blood. It took the blood bank eight hours to wash the IGAs out of that blood they were going to give me. It is a long process the blood has to go through to get rid of IGAs. I've thought about trying to store some of my blood or something. I do wear a medic alert bracelet because of this! It is VERY important that you wear one if you have an IGA deficiency!

My IGAs always show negative 4-7 when I have them checked. My brother and dad have IGG deficiencies. Doctors say they can't believe we have two IGG deficiencies and an IGA deficiency in our immediate family. My dad and brother have taken IGG infusions to build up their IGGs. Unfortunately there's nothing they can do to build up IGA deficient patients. Hopefully in the future, they'll come up with something to help us!

anon295127
Post 24

My daughter was just diagnosed yesterday and I am grateful to have found this site and have read everyone's comments. My daughter's symptoms initially appeared as hives (possible allergic reaction) then to chronic hives and now cfmd IgA deficient and UCTD.

She takes a variety of prescription allergy meds to control the hives. She is scheduled for further testing. She has had a history of ear infections since birth, a bout of pneumonia a few years ago and Raynaud's. She is also in the process of selecting a medic alert bracelet. Hope I have shed a little more information on this topic.

anon294438
Post 23

I have opened up a Facebook Page for Iga Deficency. My 14 year old was diagnosed with 0.00 percent and I have been through a lot and would like to help others!

anon278212
Post 22

I'm also deficient in Iga and suffer with so many stomach problems and mucous after eating certain foods. I also have celiac disease and can't tolerate most fruits, potatoes, rice, etc. There's got to be a way of boosting our Iga levels -- maybe fruit and vegetables could be the answer?

anon253891
Post 21

I don't think the autism is unrelated to this. I do not believe in coincidence.

anon242847
Post 20

Please, I have had this disease my whole life. I had great pregnancies. Try to avoid antibiotics and build up your other immunities.

The culprit for many of the things posted here is Candida yeast. Treat that and things in GI -- even autism -- will improve greatly. Many years ago, kids did not survive this condition because of the lack of antibiotics. Here we are though, and never receive IGA positive blood because it can be fatal to us. It is a good idea to wear a medical id bracelet. Hypothyroid is also very present.

anon242698
Post 19

Has anybody here taken RhoGam while pregnant? I'm A- and my son is A+ so I had to take RhoGam. It says not to take it if you are IGA deficient. Wish I wasn't, but now I wonder if it caused my son's IGA deficiency. Any ideas?

anon218555
Post 18

@Post 16: Has your grandchild ever been tested for the genetic illness, Cystic Fibrosis? Might want to take a look at that one.

anon198031
Post 17

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have ringing of the ears, dizziness and everything.

anon171070
Post 16

My 21 month old grandchild was just diagnosed with Iga deficiency last week. She has been on breathing treatments many times for asthma, many ear infections, blood in her stool, and cannot gain weight. She still needs to see a pediatric pulmonologist and GI specialist. She has seen an allergist who has done the prick test on her back and she tested negative for everything. Question: I read on a previous post about a woman who has obstetric cholestasis- severe itching in pregnancy affecting liver/bile acid levels. Is there a connection between IGa deficiency and obstetric cholestasis??

Also, a little about my family history: Father has ankylosing spondylitis, nephew has alopecia, diabetes, niece has juvenile arthritis, niece has OMS, sister has diabetes, psoriasis, niece and nephew have Arnold Chiari Malformation, tethered cords. As you see, many autoimmune diseases in the family. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance. Vicki

anon160128
Post 15

my daughter who is six, has no iga. In the first 2 1/2 years of her life she was in the hospital seven times for neutropenia. when she would get a virus (mostly mycoplasma) it would knock out her immune system. we also found out that she has a lot of allergies. her immunologist started her on allergy shots and they have worked wonders! don't get me wrong; she still gets sick, but she has not been sick enough to be in the hospital yet.

anon147470
Post 14

My nine year old son has iga deficiency. he was diagnosed three years ago as he was so sick he tore his stomach lining. We were previously told he had a dairy intolerance, asthma and got infections every month as most kids do. i knew something wasn't right with him as he also has a heart murmur, had his tonsils and adenoids removed at five, really bad hay fever, an ulcer in in his eyes, but still had lots of stomach problems and infections.

Luckily during operations he'd never needed a blood transfusion. His first pediatrician hadn't picked up the iga problem even though it had shown up in his blood. We got referred to another doctor who treated him but he developed more problems with anemia. After ending up in hospital after a stomach bug and having an endoscopy to check for ulcers, which were negative, I'd had enough of being fobbed off. My son refused to play outside and was very unhappy. i work for the nhs with patients with depression and spoke to a colleague who advised me to research iga.

i found he should have been referred to an immunologist and gastrologist. my friend didn't understand a lot about iga deficiency and advised me to be very assertive with the pediatrician so i went back and told them he should see an immunologist and gastro. he now sees the immunologist, who is having to start from scratch to test him for other conditions related but celiac, but he is so good. he has an immunology nurse who we can now ring if he's ill.

It's so frustrating at times but if you're diagnosed, ask to see an immunologist right away so you don't get messed around. My four year old son has had lots of infections with his his ears, chest and over christmas, sinuses which won't go, even though he's had four lots of antibiotics in nine weeks. i had to ask three times for my gp to test for iga deficiency and he's now also been diagnosed, but they've referred him to immunology and not right away. Even though I'm not happy he's got the same, it's not going to as hard to deal with after my eldest son was first admitted to hospital at five days old and has been ill since then.

When you see people who know how to treat this, you feel much more able to deal with it and in control. It's been hard with endless meds, appointments, seeing my son upset and refusing his meds, but it gets easier to deal with as a parent, which you have to do so your kids accept it. It can be hard for them as they grow up. there needs to be more awareness and support for people.

Flywheel1
Post 13

Anon 144262, if you research iga deficiency blood transfusion online, you will find many sources of information.

Flywheel1
Post 12

To: anon144261: If you research it online, you will find many sources of information.

anon144261
Post 11

well my son is about to be six years old and was diagnosed with this disease when he was three. Now he is sick almost all the time with chronic diarrhea, as well as a chronic low grade fever. now every time someone in his class is sick he catches it quickly and is sick even longer.

i saw someone added about autism he also is diagnosed since 2 and a half years old and with that it's not a horrible thing. it's something you have to learn about and learn how to live with it. Most kids with autism are diagnosed as far as i know with some kind of deficiency.

now he usually gets the flu, common colds, ear infections, strep and even bronchitis sometimes, so there is a lot to this disease and there should be more information about it out there (more awareness).

I'm not sure but me or my husband could even have it. Wow this is crazy i didn't know that if you have an iga deficiency and have to have a blood transfusion it has to be blood with an iga deficiency blood type. can someone tell me more about that? thanks so much. --nina

anon139837
Post 10

Someone mentioned that they tested neg for celiac disease. Someone who is IgA deficient will test negative for celiac - it skews your blood test results. You have to have an endoscopy to find out if you have celiac disease. If you haven't gotten one done, go see a GI doc. I'm getting my endoscopy done soon, because my blood work came back neg for celiac too.

anon138138
Post 9

I find this all so strange. I have just been diagnosed at 45. I have had ear infections and normal colds throughout my life. I did get pneumonia a lot and I ended up with mild emphysema after smoking on and off for only nine years. I was told this after I had quit smoking (they forgot to tell me. Lol) I had stopped smoking just in time without even being aware it was there.

I have had bouts of bowel issues, but nothing like is being described here or on other sites. I have always responded to meds right away and very well. I do not have allergies, asthma or frequent infections of any sort other than my ears. After I had the pneumonia shot five years ago I haven't had it since. I am very blessed to not have all the problems you all do and I count my blessings daily. I just can't seem to wrap my head around this yet whole thing yet. I look forward to when they find more out about this condition that seems so very common.

I am having my kids and grandkids tested and I have notified all my family on all sides because we do not know where this came from. I have had so may operations and am very blessed that I have had no reason (accidents or anything) that have had me needing an emergency blood transfusion because that would have been really bad. I have ordered a bracelet so that emergency staff all know that I can have only IGA deficient blood (if they have any on hand at the time). This needs to be more publicized because of that reason alone. you have 1-400 to 2000 people who could have an allergic reaction to untreated blood! That is not okay.

anon137151
Post 8

Wow. This is a great page on a condition that is so difficult to find information on.

I was diagnosed with IgA deficiency early this year and most nurses and doctors have seemed quite unable to give me much information on it, and I'd been left pretty bewildered before doing my own research.

I have been hospitalised and wired up to drips due to this delightful IgA deficiency that I've been blessed with.

I have now had six courses of antibiotics in the last year, yet keep contracting a bug in my gut known as Giardia, which has caused me to have diarrhoea for a year and a half now. I am completely drained and the other month my hands seized up due to calcium deficiency, when I got to hospital it was found I had deficiencies of most vitamins known to man. I am so annoyed at having IgA deficiency.

I was in college working towards being a nurse! But I'm so drained with recurrent illness, I'm just having to put the little energy I have into my kids to get by, and having to rethink having a career around people who may be contagious.

I also happen to be vegetarian, so everyone is saying my low immunity is thanks to be not eating steak, which is ridiculous. No one will understand that I was born with IgA deficiency, they think I'm just not taking care of myself. I wash my hands 20 times a freakin' day to avoid catching bugs! I drink fresh juice, cook organic vegetables and still get ill!

anon130550
Post 7

My daughter is 24, and she was diagnosed with iga when she was two years old. She has been sick on and off since she was little. She is now pregnant and due to give birth in four weeks. her pregnancy has not been plain sailing and at the moment she has the most uncomfortable itching, her whole body itches. The blood tests showed she has hepatitis but after scanning her liver, it does not show up.

anon124547
Post 6

After reading these posts, my problem pales in comparison. I have IGA definitely. It started in my late 40's (four years ago). I was getting infections about every six to eight weeks in the beginning (with high fever), and now I get the full blown infection about 3-4 times/year however, there is not a single day I do not wake up feeling like I am getting an infection!

Further, I can't recall a continuous period (vacations aside) when I did not have diarrhea). I saw a gastro doctor who wanted me to take the "Purple pill" upon finding out I tested neg for celiac), but I have something. Having said this, without fail, when I am on vacation, the diarrhea goes away, so, perhaps its irritable bowel-who knows?

Anyway, the sinus, throat, ear, intestinal infections are, to say the least, the worst. When I get them, they last for weeks and antibiotics (which I try to avoid for fear of becoming immune to them) only enhance the diarrhea however, sometimes I feel so bad and get so tired of the infection, I take them anyway.

It takes all my energy just to go to work (I work a full time job and teach three or four group fitness classes/week part-time; try teaching a spinning class with a sinus infection and diarrhea!)

The worst part to me is my canceling social plans or not attending social events because I feel so lousy and/or embarrassed with my nose blowing, coughing up stuff and getting light headed, not to mention the headaches! Thanks for listening. --Robert

anon122764
Post 5

If you are seeing an Immunologist, maybe you should ask him about vivaglobin, a synthetic gamma globulin that can be given weekly or monthly. My son used to get pneumonia all of the time and has asthma. He has been on these treatments for two years and things are so much better.

Flywheel1
Post 4

"One in every 400 to 2,000 people"? Why such a wide variance? Different studies giving different results?

April Carpenter
Post 3

I have IgA Deficiency and I'm American too. I found this out from the allergy clinic and it's making it harder for my ears to get better from being infected and crud and also it's making me get sick easier than others!

anon112775
Post 2

I am a 47 year old woman diagnosed with this in 1999. Until that time, GP's treated me as though I were either a hypochondriac or guilty of very poor eating habits and hygiene. No one could explain why I got sick nine months a year. I found it a relief to know there was a reason for all the recurrent respiratory and throat problems. Now I take supplements, avoid triggers and have found a GP who treats me as a patient, not a fool.

anon112597
Post 1

This disease is horrid. My three year old son has it, and thanks to it, he had pneumonia for a full year, developed severe asthma which is so hard to treat, malnutrition from chronic diarrhea, and (unrelated?) has autism. His food allergies this spring were cows milk, tomato, citrus and soy. Now he's also allergic to goats milk, rice and wheat, or has developed celiac sprue enteropathy. So what is left that he can eat?

And there isn't even treatment for the cause, only deal with the bombshell of symptoms.

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