AspergillosisOverview

Aspergillosis is a condition caused by aspergillus mould. There are several different types of aspergillosis. Most affect the lungs and cause breathing difficulties.

How you get aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is usually caused by inhaling tiny bits of mould. The mould is found in lots of places, including:

  • soil, compost and rotting leaves
  • plants, trees and crops
  • dust
  • damp buildings
  • air conditioning systems

You can't catch aspergillosis from someone else or from animals.

Most people who breathe in the mould don't get ill.

Aspergillosis is rare in healthy people

You're usually only at risk of aspergillosis if you have:

  • a lung condition – such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • a weakened immune system – for example, if you have had an organ transplant or are having chemotherapy
  • had tuberculosis (TB) in the past

Symptoms of aspergillosis

Symptoms of aspergillosis include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough – you may cough up blood or lumps of mucus
  • wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
  • a high temperature of 38C or above
  • weight loss

If you already have a lung condition, your existing symptoms may get worse.

See a GP if you have:

  • a cough for more than 3 weeks
  • a lung condition that's getting worse or harder to control with your usual treatment
  • a weakened immune system and symptoms of aspergillosis

Get an urgent GP appointment if you cough up blood. Call 111 if you can't see your GP.

What happens at your appointment

Your GP will check for an obvious cause of your symptoms, like a chest infection or asthma.

If they're not sure what the problem is, they may refer you to a specialist for tests such as:

  • X-rays and scans
  • blood tests or tests on a sample of mucus
  • allergy tests
  • a bronchoscopy – where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look in your lungs

Treatment for aspergillosis depends on the type

Treatment usually helps control the symptoms. If it isn't treated or well controlled, there's a risk it could damage your lungs.

Common types Treatment
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) – an allergy to aspergillus mould steroid tablets and antifungal tablets for a few months (possibly longer)
Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA) – a long-term lung infection long-term (possibly lifelong) treatment with antifungal tablets
Aspergilloma – a ball of mould in the lungs, often linked to CPA surgery to remove the ball if it's causing symptoms
Invasive pulmonary aspergillus (IPA) – a life-threatening infection in people with a weakened immune system antifungal medicine given directly into a vein in hospital

You can't always prevent aspergillosis

It's almost impossible to completely avoid aspergillus mould.

But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of aspergillosis if you have a lung condition or weakened immune system.

Do

  • try to avoid places where aspergillus mould is often found, such as compost heaps and piles of dead leaves
  • close your windows if there's construction work or digging outside
  • wear a face mask in dusty places
  • consider using an air purifier at home – devices with HEPA filters are best

Don't

  • do not dry your laundry in your bedroom or living areas, if possible – ideally dry it outside or in a tumble dryer

You can find out more about aspergillosis on the Support for People with Aspergillosis website.

Page last reviewed: 22/01/2018
Next review due: 22/01/2021