To Your Good Health

Granddaughter’s common symptoms are uncommonly frequent


DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 71-year-old grandmother who is very concerned about the health of my 18-year-old granddaughter. She has had the following symptoms for the past seven years, at least: earache, headache, swollen glands, sore throat and cough.

I have accompanied her to many doctor visits, and talked to the doctors and the ear specialist about how often our granddaughter has had to miss school due to her symptoms. She has been out of school about once a month for years. In the beginning, she was prescribed antibiotics, which did not seem to help her much. She then was told to take ibuprofen, and that is basically what she does when these symptoms occur.

Two years ago, she had bloodwork done, and the doctor reported that her white blood cells were normal. I asked both the specialist and her doctor just last week if they have any idea why she continues to have these symptoms. The stock answer is that most children get sick from being in contact with students at school. I cannot, in good faith, accept these responses, but I do not know where to turn, particularly when she will be going off to college in September.

I write this with tears in my eyes due to sheer frustration at not being able to do anything for her. Can you help, please? — A.M.

ANSWER: The symptoms she has are very common and are not specific to any particular disease. However, the frequency with which she has had them is not. While her doctors may be correct that this is just from being exposed to many different germs (both bacteria and viruses), I would be concerned about the possibility of common variable immunodeficiency. CVID should be considered in any child or adult with a history of recurrent bacterial infections, especially those involving the sinuses, lungs, ears or bronchi. The screening blood test is simple: an immunoglobulin level. IgG levels are always low in this condition, and IgA and IgM also might be affected.

There are other, rarer kinds of immune deficiencies with these symptoms. An immunologist is the expert in evaluating these conditions.