Aspergillosis is a condition caused by breathing in aspergillus mould.
Most people who breathe in the mould do not get ill, as the body’s immune system destroys the spores. But it can develop in people with an existing lung condition or a weakened immune system.
There are different types of aspergillosis - most affect the lungs and cause breathing difficulties.
On this page:
- What causes aspergillosis?
- Who is at risk of aspergillosis?
- What are the symptoms of aspergillosis?
- How is aspergillosis diagnosed?
- How is aspergillosis treated?
- Preventing aspergillosis
- Useful resources
Aspergillosis is caused by breathing in small particles, called spores, of aspergillus in the air. Aspergillus is a common type of fungus (mould). Find out how to stop aspergillus growing in your home.
The mould can be found in:
Some older houses may not have covered water tanks, or the covers may not be fixed. If you live in a house with an old water tank, it’s worth checking that it has a cover and the cover fits securely.
- soil, compost and rotting leaves
- plants, trees and crops
- dust and bedding
- damp buildings
- air conditioning systems and uncovered attic water tanks
You cannot catch aspergillosis from another person or from animals.
Aspergillosis is rare in healthy people. You’re at risk if:
- you have a long-term lung condition like asthma, cystic fibrosis, sarcoidosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- you have a weakened immune system, for example if you have had chemotherapy or an organ transplant
- you have had lung tuberculosis (TB)
- you have severe flu that requires artificial ventilation
Symptoms of aspergillosis include:
- shortness of breath
- a cough – which may bring up blood or mucus (which can become very thick)
- wheeze (a whistling sound when breathing)
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- weight loss
If you already have a lung condition, your existing symptoms can get worse.
If you have a lung condition and your symptoms are worse despite your usual treatment or you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks, go to see your GP. It may take some time to rule out other causes and get a diagnosis, and you may need to see a specialist or have tests such as:
- X-rays and scans
- blood tests including for aspergillus antibodies
- tests on a sample of your mucus
- a bronchoscopy to look inside your lungs
My shocking diagnosis of aspergillosis
After months of a constant cough, Marie was diagnosed with aspergillosis, a rare lung condition.
The treatment for aspergillosis depends on the type. It is important to get treatment, as without treatment, it can cause lung damage.
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
This is caused by an allergic reaction to the aspergillus mould. You may need to take steroid and antifungal medicines for some months.
Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA)
This is a long-term lung infection which may require long term (possibly life-long) treatment with antifungal medicines.
This caused by aspergillus growing into a ball inside the lung. This usually occurs in areas of the lung damaged by previous infections, especially TB. Aspergillomas are often linked to chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA). You may need to have surgery to the remove the ball, often after antifungal therapy.
Invasive pulmonary aspergillus (IPA)
This is a life-threatening infection in people who have a weakened immune system. They will be treated in hospital with antifungal medicines given directly into a vein.
It’s not possible to completely avoid aspergillus mould. But there are things you can do to reduce the risk of catching aspergillosis:
- avoid places where aspergillus mould is often found
- close your windows if there’s construction work or digging outside
- wear a face mask in dusty places and consider using an air purifier
- dry your laundry outside or in a tumble dryer – avoid drying it in your bedroom or living space