Aspergillosis

Written by Chitra Badii and Marijane Leonard | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Aspergillosis is an infection, allergic reaction, or fungal growth caused by the Aspergillus fungus. The fungus usually grows on decaying vegetation and dead leaves. Being exposed to the fungus does not necessarily mean that you will get aspergillosis; it is more likely to infect people with a weak immune system.

What are the Types of Aspergillosis?

Different types of aspergillosis affect the body in different ways. Certain conditions and medications increase your risk for developing each type.

Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA)

In ABPA, the fungus causes allergic reactions such as coughing and wheezing. You are more susceptible to this type if you have lung problems such as cystic fibrosis or asthma.

Invasive Aspergillosis

You are more likely to experience an invasive type of aspergillosis if your immune system has been weakened by leukemia, cancer, AIDS, chemotherapy, or other conditions that make it difficult to fight infections. This type invades your lung tissues and can spread to your kidneys or brain. If invasive aspergillosis goes untreated, it can cause infectious pneumonia. This condition can be life threatening in patients with compromised immune systems.

Aspergilloma

If you have tuberculosis or another lung disease, being exposed 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 does not typically spread to other areas of your body. However, the ball can become larger and damage your lung tissues.

What Causes Aspergillosis?

The illness is caused by the combination of exposure to the fungus and a weak immune system. Compost piles, stored grain, marijuana leaves, and decaying vegetation may carry the fungus.

What are the Symptoms of Aspergillosis?

ABPA causes coughing, wheezing, fever, and general feelings of being unwell. If you have a different form of the illness or parts of your body other than your lungs are affected, you may have:

  • pain in your chest and bones
  • vision difficulties
  • blood in your urine and/or less urine
  • headaches
  • chills
  • difficulty breathing
  • skin sores
  • bloody phlegm

How Is Aspergillosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will speak to you about your symptoms and review your medical history for conditions that make you susceptible 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
  • chest X-ray
  • computed tomography (CT) scan to view your lungs
  • sputum stain and culture to examine your bronchial mucus

How Is Aspergillosis Treated?

Medication

Antifungal medication treats all types of the illness. The invasive type may be treated with oral or intravenous drugs such as voriconazole. If you have allergic aspergillosis, you may receive medication that suppresses your immune system (such as prednisone) along with antifungal drugs.

Surgery

If the fungus causes infection of your heart valves, surgery is usually necessary to remove the infected areas. The surgery is usually followed by extensive antifungal treatment.

Long-Term Outlook

Allergic aspergillosis typically heals with treatment though it may reoccur if you are 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, unresponsiveness to medication can lead to death. Complications include airway blockage, respiratory failure, kidney damage, and bleeding in the lungs.

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