Aspergillosis is an infection, allergic reaction, or fungal growth caused by the Aspergillus fungus. The fungus usually grows on decaying vegetation and dead leaves. Exposure to the fungus doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get aspergillosis. Almost everyone encounters the fungus on a daily basis and never contracts the illness. It’s more likely to infect people with a weak immune system or a lung disease.
Different types of aspergillosis affect the body in different ways. Certain conditions and medications increase your risk for developing each type. Different types of aspergillosis have different symptoms.
Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA)
In allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), the fungus causes allergic reactions such as coughing and wheezing. You’re more susceptible to this type of aspergillosis if you have lung problems such as cystic fibrosis or asthma. ABPA also causes shortness of breath, and general feelings of being unwell.
You’re more likely to have an invasive type of aspergillosis if your immune system is weakened by chemotherapy and conditions such as leukemia, cancer, and AIDS.
A weakened immune system makes it more difficult to fight off infections. This type of aspergillosis invades your lung tissues and can spread to your kidneys or brain. If invasive aspergillosis goes untreated, it can cause infectious pneumonia. Infectious pneumonia can be life-threatening in people with compromised immune systems.
Invasive aspergillosis often occurs in people who already have other medical conditions, so it can be hard to separate the symptoms of invasive aspergillosis from those of the other conditions. Known symptoms of invasive aspergillosis include:
- a cough (sometimes with blood)
- pain in the chest
- shortness of breath
Also, an infection of the lungs can spread throughout the body, causing new symptoms.
If you have tuberculosis or another lung disease, exposure to the fungus can cause you to develop a fungus growth. Also called a fungus ball, this type of growth usually consists of fungus, clots, and white blood cells. The growth doesn’t typically spread to other areas of your body. However, the ball can become larger and damage your lung tissues.
With an aspergilloma, you may have a cough, with or without blood, and shortness of breath.
Other symptoms of different types of aspergillosis can include:
- pain in your chest and bones
- vision difficulties
- blood in your urine
- less urine
- difficulty breathing
- skin sores
- bloody phlegm
The illness is the result of a combination of exposure to the Aspergillus fungus and a weak immune system. The following may carry the fungus:
- compost piles
- stored grain
- marijuana leaves
- decaying vegetation
Your doctor will speak to you about your symptoms and review your medical history for conditions that make you open to the illness. Testing for invasive aspergillosis usually involves doing a biopsy to sample and test lung tissue. Your doctor may also insert an instrument through your mouth or nose to reach your lungs and collect a small amount of fluid for fungal testing.
Other tests may include:
- blood tests to check for antibodies, allergens, and fungus molecules
- a chest X-ray
- a CT scan of your lungs
- a sputum stain and culture to examine your bronchial mucus
Antifungal medication treats all types of the illness. Oral or intravenous drugs such as voriconazole can treat the invasive type of aspergillosis. If you have allergic aspergillosis, you may receive medication that suppresses your immune system, such as prednisone, along with antifungal drugs.
If the fungus causes infection of your heart valves, surgery is usually necessary to remove the infected areas. After the surgery, you’ll get extensive antifungal treatment.
Keep in mind that aspergillosis isn’t contagious.
Allergic aspergillosis typically heals with treatment. You may get it again if you’re repeatedly exposed to the fungus. Recovering from invasive aspergillosis depends on your overall health and the strength of your immune system.
Aspergilloma often requires no treatment.
For all types of aspergillosis, a lack of response to medication is a critical issue and can be fatal.
The risks include:
- airway blockage
- respiratory failure
- kidney damage
- bleeding in the lungs