Mold is a type of fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. When the spores make their way into the air, they can be ingested. For some people, inhaling mold spores won’t elicit any sort of response. It’s unclear why mold affects some more than others, but those living with a weakened immune system, respiratory illness, allergies, or asthma can all experience negative health effects from exposure to mold spores.
The health effects caused by mold growth occur because of the organic compounds it releases into the air, including allergens, irritants and mycotoxins. In areas where excessive moisture and dampness is an issue, the number of irritants released through an overgrowth of mold can increase, leading to further exposure and possible side effects.
So, what are the ways mold can influence immune response? Immune function is compromised by overexposure to mold in several ways:
The disruption of proper cytokine production
Mast cell activation
Eliciting an allergic reaction within the body, leading to further illness
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.
Aspergillus is a type of fungus whose spores hang in the air and can end up getting breathed into the body. It’s usually not dangerous to breathe in aspergillus spores, but it can be. For people who suffer from autoimmune disorders, a weak immune system, or even something as simple as allergies that affect how the lungs operate, chronic exposure to aspergillus spores can lead to a disease called invasive aspergillosis.