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Neutropenia

The human body has its own built-in defense system designed to fight off harmful viruses and bacteria that cause infections. One of those defenses is called neutrophil. If neutrophil is depleted, your child can be prone infection. Fortunately, our specialists have their own arsenal of tools and treatments to help protect your child.

The body makes many types of white blood cells, all designed to fight off infections caused by viruses and bacteria. One type of white blood cell is neutrophil. When harmful bacteria enter the blood stream, neutrophil surround and destroy them. If the levels of neutrophil are too low, they are unable to do their job and the infection can spread. This is called neutropenia.

What causes neutropenia?

Neutropenia has many causes. The most common one is due to a temporary depletion in the white blood cells. When your child's body fights off a viral or bacterial infection, it uses up a lot of its white blood cells and it may take some time to rebuild them. During this time, your child may develop neutropenia. This type of neutropenia usually corrects itself quickly and your child's immune system returns to normal. There are, however, some circumstances where additional testing, diagnosis and treatment may be necessary to determine the cause of your child's neutropenia and protect your child's immunity. Those causes may include:

  • Chemotherapy – can cause blood cell levels to drop during the course of the treatment
  • Medications like penicillin, propylthiouracil, phenothiazine, anti-seizure medications
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Blood and bone marrow diseases
  • Infections, especially chicken pox and flu
  • An immune system disorder that causes the body to attack its own blood cells

There are some rare disorders that can also cause neutropenia:

  • Cyclic neutropenia
  • Severe congenital neutropenia
  • Malignancies like leukemia that invade the bone marrow
  • Idiopathic neutropenia – meaning unknown causes
  • Syndrome-associated neutropenia such as Schwachman-Diamond, Dyskeratosis congenita

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of neutropenia are an increase in infections, especially in the:

  • Lungs – coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • Mouth – sores, swollen gums, bleeding gums
  • Sinuses – thick green or yellow discharge, stuffy nose, cough
  • Skin – rash, sores, scabs
  • Throat – red, rash, pus on tonsils
  • Brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • Bone infections
  • Lymph node infections
  • Vaginal, urethral or rectal ulcers

If your child seems to be experiencing an unusual number of infections or uncommon infections, your doctor may refer you to one of our specialists for neutropenia testing.

Testing and diagnosis

Testing for neutropenia will begin with a complete medical history of your child. This will be followed by a complete blood count (CBC) to determine the levels of each blood cell. Testing may also include a bone marrow aspiration and autopsy. These tests will help your doctor diagnose the cause of your child's neutropenia and to create a treatment plan.

For children taking certain medications or undergoing chemotherapy, regular CBCs may be scheduled. These treatments can cause neutropenia, so keeping an eye on your child's blood levels can help to detect the risk and treat it before an infection can set in.

Treatment

Many times, neutropenia will correct itself so no treatment is required. There are certain cases where additional treatment may be required.

  • Treatment of any infection they may get until their immune system builds back up
  • Hospitalization for severe infection
  • Oral antibiotics or IV antibiotics
  • Neutrophil growth factor injections to boost your child's white blood cell count

We are here to help.

If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-4007.