Why Do I Get Sick So Often

By: Molly Edmonds  | 
A sick child
Getting sick may not seem fair, but there's a reason why it happens.

Numerous illnesses can afflict the human body, ranging from carsickness to colds to cancer. No matter the ailment, people often wonder, Why do I get sick so often? Understanding the various factors that contribute to frequent sickness can provide insight and help you avoid getting sick in the future.

The earliest physicians thought that illness and disease were a sign of God's anger or the work of evil spirits. Hippocrates and Galen advanced the concept of humorism. This theory held that we get sick from imbalances of the four basic substances within the human body — blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Paracelsus, a Renaissance-era physician, was one of the first to posit that sickness comes from outside sources, rather than from within.


Infectious vs. Non-Infectious Diseases

Today, we know that there are two major kinds of diseases: infectious and non-infectious. Infectious diseases are caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. These pathogens can enter the body through the air we breathe, the foods and drinks we consume or through openings in the skin, such as cuts.

As an example, think of a person who has a cold. That person may cough into their hand and then touch a doorknob, thus placing the cold virus on the doorknob. The virus may die on the doorknob, but it's also possible that the next person to touch the doorknob will pick it up. If that person then touches food with the unwashed hand and consumes the food, the virus is now inside their body.


Non-infectious diseases aren't caused by pathogens and can't be spread person-to-person. These diseases are more likely to be caused by a confluence of factors including the environment, a person's lifestyle choices and genetics.

For example, skin cancer is usually the result of people spending too much time in the sun without protection from the sun's UV rays, which is considered an environmental factor. A condition like heart disease may be caused by a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet or it may be caused by a family history of the disease. Though we may not be able to change our genetic code, there are plenty of things that humans can do to prevent noninfectious diseases. Most notably, we can choose to eat healthfully and exercise. We can also reduce our exposure to avoidable risk factors such as cigarette smoke.


The Power of a Healthy Immune System

Not every pathogen that enters the body results in illness — our bodies come equipped with immune systems to fight off foreign agents. This complex network of cells, tissues, and organs works together to recognize and neutralize harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. It can also identify and remove cells that are not functioning properly. A strong and well-functioning immune system is crucial for maintaining good health.

However, pathogens have the ability to adapt and evolve much more quickly than the immune system can, which means that pathogens sometimes have the upper hand when it comes to fooling the body's defenses. One way that pathogens evade the immune system is by hiding within the body's healthy cells. Additionally, some people have weakened immune systems that make it harder for them to resist the effects of an invading pathogen.


Handwashing Is Your First Line of Defense

Washing your hands frequently is a simple yet highly effective practice to prevent the spread of illnesses, particularly during flu season when the risk of transmission is high. Dirty hands can harbor a variety of pathogens, including common cold viruses, which can easily be transferred to the mouth, nose or eyes, leading to infection. Washing your hands, especially after being in public spaces or in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, is a crucial habit in breaking the transmission chain of these pathogens.


The Impact of Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is a pervasive issue that significantly impacts a person's well-being and health. When the body is constantly under stress, it produces stress hormones that can suppress the immune system, leading to a higher susceptibility to illness. Understanding how stress affects the body is crucial in identifying and mitigating its impacts. Implementing stress management strategies is essential, and reducing stress through techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, and adequate rest can play a vital role in maintaining overall health and preventing frequent illnesses.


Why Proper Sleep Is So Important

Getting enough sleep is paramount for a healthy immune system and overall well-being. Lack of proper sleep or enough quality sleep can impair the body’s ability to fight off infections, leading to an increased frequency of illnesses. It’s important to prioritize sleep and establish a regular sleep schedule to ensure the body has adequate time to perform necessary repairs and rejuvenation. Maintaining good sleep hygiene, such as limiting screen time before bed and creating a comfortable sleep environment, can contribute significantly to achieving enough quality sleep.


Don't Overlook Oral Health

Oral health is a critical yet often overlooked aspect of overall health. Poor oral health can be a gateway for harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to infections and illnesses in other parts of the body. Maintaining good oral hygiene through regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups is essential in preserving oral health and supporting a strong immune system. Awareness and proactive care can prevent oral health issues from becoming a contributing factor to frequent sickness.


The Role of a Balanced Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet is foundational to immune health. Essential nutrients obtained from a healthy diet, including vitamin C from fruits and vegetables and adequate vitamin D levels from fatty fish are vital for optimal immune function. Beyond these specific nutrients, adopting overall healthy habits in eating and moderating alcohol intake contribute significantly to immune health. Ensuring adequate hydration by regularly drinking water also supports the body's nutrient transportation and toxin elimination processes.


Immune System Disorders

Certain conditions can lead to immune system disorders, resulting in a weak immune system that is less capable of defending the body against pathogens. An autoimmune disease, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells, and an immunodeficiency disorder, characterized by an underactive immune system, are examples of conditions that can lead to poor immune health. These disorders can increase an individual's vulnerability to infections and other health issues. Managing these conditions often requires medical intervention and lifestyle adjustments to strengthen the immune system and enhance overall health.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Lots More Information

  • Borzelleca, Joseph F. "Paracelsus: Herald of Modern Toxicology." Toxicological Sciences. 2000. (March 5, 2010)http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/53/1/2
  • "Chronic/Noninfectious Disease." Minnesota Department of Health: Strategies for Public Health. 2002. (March 5, 2010)http://www.health.state.mn.us/strategies/chronic.pdf
  • "Infectious Disease: Evolving Challenges to Human Health." Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences. (March 5, 2010 http://www.koshland-science-museum.org/exhib_infectious/
  • "Infectious Diseases." World Health Organization. (March 5, 2010)http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_diseases/en/
  • Infectious Diseases Society of America. (March 5, 2010)http://www.idsociety.org/