Aspergillus, also known as aspergillus fumigatus, is a type of mold spore commonly found in compost piles, vegetable matter, foods, spices, and on dead leaves. The mold spores can hang around in the air or be carried indoors by shoes or clothing, and can also grow on carpeted areas, dust, and materials used in building.
The infection caused by the overexposure to aspergillus spores is called aspergillosis. It occurs when the mold spores are breathed in on a regular basis and attach themselves to tissues in the body. This infection can cause numerous health problems if inhaled in large amounts, and people with weakened immune systems or allergies are more susceptible to its negative effects.
What are the signs and symptoms of aspergillus overexposure?
Symptoms that can be caused by an overexposure to aspergillus can range depending on the type of infection. Pulmonary aspergillosis occurs mostly in people with lung disorders and mainly affects the lung system. Symptoms of pulmonary aspergillosis include a chronic cough with mucus or blood, fever, difficulty breathing or shallow breathing, wheezing, and chest pain. In people who suffer from invasive aspergillosis, symptoms are much more severe. Invasive aspergillosis occurs when the infection gets into the bloodstream and can cause kidney failure, shortness of breath, liver failure, bleeding from the lungs, and shock.
Bronchopulmonary aspergillosis is a type of infection that is most like an allergic reaction. People who suffer from chronic lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis or asthma are most at risk for this type of aspergillosis. The symptoms include coughing, wheezing, fever, asthma symptoms, and increased mucus or blood secretions.
What’s the test for aspergillus infection?
Testing for aspergillus infection can be difficult because it can mimic other chronic conditions, especially in people who suffer from lung disorders. A doctor will ask about medical history to pin down the cause, and may perform a series of other tests to reach a diagnosis. Tests include skin and blood, imaging, and sputum culture.
For a skin test, the doctor will inject the aspergillus antigen into the body, most likely on the lower arm, to see if the body has an allergic reaction. A blood test will be done to check for antibodies that would be present in the event of an allergic reaction. Examination of the lungs may be performed to check for an aspergillus mass and sampling of the sputum will be done to check for the presence of fungus. To diagnose invasive aspergillosis, a biopsy of lung tissue may need to be performed to confirm the presence of the infection.
What is the treatment for aspergillus infection?
Depending on the type of infection, treatment options may vary. Antifungal drugs are generally the first line of defense against an aspergillosis infection to help destroy the fungus in the body. It is the most used treatment for invasive aspergillosis. Doctors may use Voriconazole because it has less side effects than others, but if the infection is resistant to other antifungals, Caspofungin may be used.
For bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, an oral corticosteroid medication will be used to treat the allergic reaction caused by the fungus. In the most severe cases, surgery may be required to remove a mass of aspergillomas that can built up in the lungs and cause excessive bleeding. Another effective treatment for aspergillomas is embolization to help inhibit blood flow to the site, but full removal is the main treatment for this type of aspergillosis.
The link between aspergillus and Lyme disease
Lyme disease can lead to a host of different health issues, some of which can last years after the infection. In people with Lyme disease, the immune system is heavily compromised, so the risk of contracting an infection caused by aspergillus can be heightened. When patients with Lyme disease do contract aspergillosis, it can be hard to both diagnose and treat, and can lead to worsened chronic symptoms and a worse case of the aspergillosis infection. This is due to the body’s inability to fight off the infection on its own.
The symptoms that can present in both patients with Lyme disease and aspergillosis include headaches; fever; problems with the overall healthy function of the body and its organs, including the liver and kidneys; and chronic fatigue or inability to perform functions such as exercise. Due to the symptoms being similar, and the susceptibility to becoming infected with aspergillus spores, people suffering from Lyme disease may be more at risk of developing aspergillosis.
The bottom line
It is hard to avoid overexposure to aspergillus mold because of how common and widespread it is. People with weakened immune systems or chronic conditions are more susceptible to the aspergillus spores causing aspergillosis, so it’s important to take good care of your immune system.
This can be done by eating a diet rich in immune-boosting foods, getting daily exercise, and supplementing any vitamin and mineral deficiencies to ensure that the body is running at its most optimal. If you do have a weakened immune system or chronic illness that could heighten the risk of developing the infection, avoiding things that could cause overexposure (such as gardening or mowing the lawn) or wearing a mask in areas where high levels of mold occur is the best way to avoid an aspergillosis infection.