When Your Immune Hurts You: Cytokine Storms
Every biological system in your body plays a critical role in keeping you healthy. For example, your digestive system helps you take in nutrients and eliminate waste, while your respiratory system helps you take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. However, the immune system's crucial and challenging task is to protect your body from external threats without going overboard. For the immune system, the challenge sometimes lies in "not overdoing it." Consider the immune disorder known as "cytokine storm," in which the immune system totally overreacts to the virus or bacterial infection it is trying to fight, attacking the organs and occasionally the body it is trying to defend.
The body uses cytokines, a group of signaling molecules, to control processes like immunity and inflammation. These proteins instruct the immune system to weaken or strengthen its defense response as they circulate throughout the body through the blood. Cytokines start to spread the word as soon as they realize an immune response is required to combat a specific foreign invader. Additionally, cytokines typically notify the immune system when it is appropriate to reduce the severity of the attack. Unless they don't, that is.
Dr. Randy Cron, professor of Pediatrics & Medicine at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and co-editor of the first textbook on the topic, titled "Cytokine Storm Syndrome," said in an email interview that "the immune system typically ramps up to remove an infection, and then it calms down." "In cytokine storm syndrome, an incorrect reaction takes place such that the immune system keeps up the fight, harming the infected individual in the process."
Cytokine Storms Linked To Covid19
Many of the most serious coronavirus infections are showing symptoms of cytokine storm, according to doctors. In the most severe episodes of the illness, particularly in those who are young and healthy, higher amounts of cytokines are frequently present. Given their age and general health, a patient could typically be anticipated to fight off a virus or infection rather well, but they could unexpectedly deteriorate quickly and become dangerously ill.
According to Cron, cytokine storms can impact people of any age, from infants to adults. According to Cron, there are some therapies to help the patient deal with their immune system dangerously overdoing it, but it's a relatively new area of research, and information isn't always disseminated equally among health professionals treating people with COVID-19. "For COVID-19, it appears as if children may be relatively spared the cytokine storm syndrome compared to adults," she said. Cron predicts that up to 15% of individuals with serious infection will also experience cytokine storm syndrome.
Despite the fact that cytokine storms can affect patients of any age, some medical professionals think they may help explain why the 1918 pandemic killed so many people in the typically resilient 20 to 40 year old age range. The hallmark of cytokine storms, according to researchers, may also be seen in more recent SARS, MERS, and H1N1 epidemics, so why aren't they more common with daily ailments like the common cold? According to Cron, COVID-19 is one of the viruses that is more prone than others to cause cytokine storm syndrome. Although uncommon with typical colds, it is unquestionably possible with severe flu strains and even hemorrhagic fever viruses like Ebola or Dengue.
What We Need To Look Out For
Cytokine storms appear to have some particular characteristics when affected by the COVID-19 virus, despite the fact that our understanding of them is still developing. For instance, this coronavirus prevents some of the specific cytokines that are frequently found increasing in patients with other viruses like H1N1 or SARS, but the storm develops faster swiftly and blood clotting rates are higher. Cron and his colleagues think that in some cases, specific cytokine storm types may be explained by genetic variables. But for now, all we need to do is keep an eye out for our ailing friends.
According to Cron, "this particular COVID-19 cytokine storm condition initially seems to target the lungs." "When breathing gets more and more difficult, cytokine storm might develop, going beyond merely a fever and cough."
The field of study is developing swiftly, and some experimental treatments are quite promising. For instance, the medicine tocilizumab, which is often used to reduce excessive immune responses, is showing a lot of promise as a treatment for COVID-19 patients' cytokine storm syndrome.