Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell. These white blood cells help to protect the body from certain types of infections and are involved in allergic responses. Eosinophils are created in the bone and move through the body in the blood.
Eosinophilia is an abnormally high number of these white blood cells. There may be high levels of eosinophils in the blood, in the tissue, or both.
There are several types of eosinophilia including:
- Familial eosinophilia—caused by problems in genes that control eosinophil growth
- Secondary eosinophilia—related to a parasitic infection, autoimmune reaction, allergic, or other inflammatory illnesses
- Primary eosinophilia—change in production of eosinophils associated with certain leukemias or chronic myeloid disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome
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Eosinophilia may be caused by an illness to a specific area or an overproduction of these cells. The cause will vary based on type of eosinophilia. Causes include:
- Allergy diseases, such as asthma, eczema, and allergic rhinitis
- Diseases from parasitic worms
Sometimes the cause of eosinophilia is not known.
A family history increases your chance of familial eosinophilia.
Conditions that increase your chance of secondary eosinophilia include:
- Allergic rhinitis or hay fever
- Allergy to foods
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Exposure to toxins
- Prescription drug side effects
- Parasitic infection
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Inflammatory conditions such as scleroderma, polyarteritis, sarcoidosis, or inflammatory bowel disease
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Conditions that increase your chance of primary eosinophilia include:
Symptoms of eosinophilia are often those of the underlying condition. For example:
Asthma symptoms may include:
- Parasitic infection symptoms may include:
Medicine reaction symptoms may include:
- Skin rashes
Rarer symptoms of eosinophilia may include:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Lymph node enlargement
- Skin rashes
- Numbness and tingling due to nerve damage
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a blood specialist.
Your bodily fluids, tissues, and waste may be tested. This can be done with:
- A blood test
- Stool tests
- Bone marrow examination
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Primary and secondary eosinophilia can be managed by treating the underlying cause.
Idiopathic eosinophilia may be treated with corticosteroids. This group of medications can reduce inflammation and decrease the number of eosinophils. Corticosteroids may be taken in inhaled form, topical treatment, pills, or injections.
There are steps you can take to lower your risk of eosinophilia caused by parasites or allergies:
Wash your hands often, especially:
- After using the toilet
- After changing a diaper
- Before handling or eating food
- After contact with animals or soil
- After contact with infected people
- Drink safe water. Boil water if you are unsure if it is safe.
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming in recreational water.
- Eat safe food. Wash vegetables that will be eaten raw.
- Drink only pasteurized milk and juice.
- Use precautions during sexual activity.
- Avoid allergy triggers.
- Michael Woods, MD
- Reviewed: 08/2013
- Updated: 05/11/2013
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