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Why do I keep getting sick? What should I do?

July 26, 2022 • read

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Why do I keep getting sick? What should I do?

Canadians take about eight days off work each year because of illness or disability, so clearly most of us get sick at least once a year. But if you find that you’re getting sick over and over, it’s probably more than just bad luck. Could your diet be impacting your immune system? Are there other factors, such as not getting enough quality sleep, that could be playing a role?

Here are some of the most common answers to the question “Why do I keep getting sick?” If you need more support and would like to speak with a health professional about continually getting sick, you can always see a Canadian-licensed doctor on Maple in minutes, 24/7, or schedule appointments with specialists such as allergists, naturopathic doctors, or registered dietitians.

1. Your immune system is compromised

Having an immune system disorder means that your immune system is less able to fight off bacterial and viral infections.

Individuals with immune system disorders get sick more often and for longer than those without them. It’s possible to be born with an immune system disorder, but you can also acquire one later in life (like with HIV/AIDS). Getting sick more often than normal is often one of the signs that clues people into realizing that they have one.

And while it’s not an immune system disorder, being worn down can also make you more likely to get sick. Being constantly on-the-go puts your immune system into a state of stress.

Chronic stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep make you less able to fend off infection. If you’re not making time for R and R, you’re probably going to keep getting sick. Your immune system can’t take care of you if you don’t take care of it.

2. A bad diet is affecting your immune system

Eating enough nutrients as part of a varied, healthy diet can support all cells in your body, including immune cells, helping them be healthy and function correctly. As a result, malnutrition or a diet that lacks essential nutrients for a healthy immune system can weaken your immune response. Added sugars can also have a negative effect on the immune system, as excess sugar depresses immunity.

If you’re wondering if you should start supporting your immune system by taking vitamin D, keep in mind that to support your body, it’s best to focus on your dietary pattern as a whole, rather than adding one individual supplement. Here’s more information about the best food, vitamins, and minerals for the immune system, different sources of vitamins, and why a balanced diet is important for good health.

3. You didn’t fully recover from your last illness

If you push yourself too hard before you’ve had a chance to fully recuperate, you’re liable to get sick again, which is why it sometimes seems like you have cold after cold after cold. And you might need longer than you think to get better — especially as you get older.

That’s why it’s best to ease yourself back into things gradually when you’re coming off an illness and to follow your doctor’s advice. If you’re prescribed antibiotics, for example, it’s crucial that you finish the entire course, even if you start to feel better. Otherwise, you might not clear the infection completely, making you vulnerable to a resurgence (and antibiotic-resistant bacteria).

4. Your lifestyle is impacting your health

Over time, regular exercise is good for your health — it’s one of the factors that helps you boost your immune system. But some research also suggests that a particularly strenuous workout can actually make you more vulnerable to getting sick for a period of time. If you’re constantly pushing beyond your limits in the gym, you could be making yourself more susceptible to illness.

But take this one with a grain of salt. Because on balance, an occasional bout of strenuous exercise is better than not exercising at all, especially if it means the difference between being a healthy weight or overweight or obese. We don’t exactly know why, but being overweight diminishes immune function and makes you more susceptible to infections.

Maybe the most important contribution you can make to improving immune function is to not smoke. Numerous studies show that smoking weakens the immune system, that smokers are sick more often than non-smokers, and that they also get more sick than individuals who are not exposed to cigarette smoke.

We don’t yet know the precise effects of vaping vs. smoking — mainly because vaping hasn’t been around long enough for extensive study — but health officials are clear that vaping also has negative health consequences. Emerging studies on the effects of vaping and e-cigarettes show that toxins can cause heart disease, lung disease including COPD, asthma, acute lung inflammation, and lung cancer.

5. You’re not drinking enough water

How does drinking water help your immune system? Our bloodstream is composed mostly of water and our immune system is dependent on nutrients in our bloodstream, so if you’re not getting enough water, your body might have difficulty transporting nutrients to the different organ systems. Failing to drink enough water can also cause many other adverse symptoms like fatigue, headache, and dry skin – your immune system’s first line of defence.

6. You’re drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol can affect the immune system. If you drink regularly, you may notice you catch colds or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t or rarely drink. Alcohol abuse can suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria and viruses, as it takes longer for your body to recognize a new infection and respond to it.

7. You’re not sleeping enough

There’s a complex relationship between sleep deprivation and the immune system, as not getting enough hours of sleep can lower the immune system. Some studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough or aren’t getting enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after an exposure to a virus. It’s just one more reason why getting enough sleep is so important.

Not getting enough sleep can also impact how quickly you recover after getting sick. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, you can use Maple to schedule an appointment with a sleep therapist.

8. You have kids

While adults shouldn’t expect to get more than two to four colds a year, this goes out the window if you have young children. That’s because once kids start daycare, they’re on track for six to 12 colds a year. Little kids are notorious for picking their noses, coughing, sneezing, and then touching basically every surface ever, so it’s not all that surprising.

And if you’re bringing one of these little germ collectors home and snuggling with them, you’ll likely find yourself getting sick more often too. Luckily, this starts to ease up as their immune systems gain exposure to different viruses and their personal hygiene improves. You can also help to guard against this by teaching your child good hand, sneeze, and cough hygiene from an early age. Which brings us to our next point.

9. You’re experiencing too much stress

The effects of stress on the immune system are numerous and complex. In the short run, stress affects the immune system by causing it to produce an inflammatory response, which can be beneficial for fighting germs. But when stress becomes chronic, it can hinder the body’s anti-inflammatory response and cause recurring infections. In other words, identifying stress factors in your life and finding new ways to avoid or cope with them can definitely benefit your immune system, as it’s sensitive to stress, especially if it’s chronic.

10. You have untreated allergies weakening your immune system

Allergies can weaken your immune system. If you’re suffering from allergies and they aren’t treated effectively, it can increase your risk for viruses and other bacteria. As a result, allergies can evolve into a different infection, like a sinus, ear, or upper respiratory infection. If you have asthma, your air passages may also be more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.

If you’d like to consult a health professional about allergies, you can use Maple to see a Canadian-licensed allergist and get treatment for a variety of allergies including drug, food, insect, pet, pollen, latex, mould, and more.

11. You don’t have good hygiene

Just because your hands look clean doesn’t mean they are. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it’s that washing your hands is one of the best ways of keeping yourself from getting sick.

The average person touches their face more than 20 times an hour — often without even realizing it. And each time they do, it’s an opportunity for whatever germs are on your dirty hands to enter your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth. That’s how germs can spread through hand contact.

If you’re not washing your hands after using the washroom, before eating and as soon as you arrive home from work (or school or wherever else you happen to go), you’re providing an opportunity for germs to spread. The science in this case is simple: up your hand-washing game to boost your health.

Oral health can also affect your immune system, as bad oral health habits can put an additional strain on your immune system. To keep your mouth healthy and remove oral bacteria, make sure to brush at least twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day.

Overall, there are many reasons why you might be continuously sick. It could be as easy to solve as washing your hands more often or just a matter of waiting for your toddler to grow up a little.

Take some time to examine your lifestyle for clues, but if you find that you keep getting sick every month and there’s no reason you can suss out, it could be a signal that something else is going on with your body, so don’t hesitate to speak with a doctor.

Maple can help you by connecting you with a Canadian-licensed doctor in minutes, 24/7 from your phone, tablet, or computer. You can also use the Maple platform to schedule appointments with specialists such as allergists or registered dietitians.

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