Aspergillosis is an infection by Aspergillus fungus that is found growing in decaying vegetation. The fungus is found both indoors and outdoors, and inhalation of the same may not cause any specific reaction in healthy people.
People with a weak immune system, lung diseases, and asthma are more likely to develop infection when they inhale the spores of the fungus. Aspergillosis affects the respiratory system and the symptoms may vary.
Chronic form of infection is known as simple aspergilloma. In this condition, mass of fungal fibers, known as fungal mass, form in the lungs. Patients with a history of conditions like emphysema, tuberculosis, or sarcoidosis may develop lung cavities.
Fungal mass may remain asymptomatic initially, but as the condition progresses, it may worsen the symptoms of the underlying lung condition. Simple aspergilloma is characterized by coughing up of blood, wheezing, shortness of breath, weight loss, and fatigue.
In severe form of aspergillosis, known as invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, the fungal infection may spread from the lungs to other organs like kidney, heart, brain, and skin. This is commonly seen in people who have a weak immune system.
Symptoms of invasive form depend on the organ affected by infection. Most common symptoms of the condition include:
Aspergillosis is caused by the infection of aspergillus fungus. The fungus is found both indoors and outdoors in dead and decaying vegetation, trees, heating ducts, insulation, and even in some food.
Those who have a healthy immune system may not be affected by inhalation of the fungal spores. People with a weakened immune system, due to immunosuppressant medications or diseases, fail to destroy the infectious agent.
This allows the organism to take over lungs forming a mass in the air cavities.
Weak immune system, low levels of white blood cells, and long-term steroid therapy increase the risk of aspergillosis. Other risk factors include conditions like lung cavities, asthma, and cystic fibrosis.
4 Making a Diagnosis
Symptoms of aspergillosis resemble that of other lung conditions like tuberculosis, making diagnosis difficult. Sputum test is a diagnostic test in which sputum sample is stained with dye to check for the presence of fungal fibers.
The fungal specimen from the sputum is then cultured for identification and confirmation of diagnosis. Allergic form of aspergillosis is diagnosed using skin test. In this procedure, a small amount of fungal antigen is injected into the skin.
Formation of reddish, bumps on the injected site indicate allergic reaction to aspergillus. Blood test reveals the presence of high levels of specific antibodies to the fungal antigen.
Imaging techniques like X-ray and CT scan produce detailed visuals of the lungs, revealing fungal mass, or signs of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Biopsy of the lung tissue is also useful in confirmatory diagnosis of the condition.
Monitoring, medications, and surgery are the common treatment methods for aspergillosis. Simple form of the condition may not require any specific treatment.
Asymptomatic aspergilloma is closely observed using chest x-ray. Among the medications, corticosteroids are used to treat allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis.
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