People with asthma know that certain things such as exposure to mold can make their asthma symptoms worse. During an asthma attack, the air tubes (bronchi) in the lungs begin to spasm which makes breathing difficult. Approximately one fifth of adults who have had asthma for a long time can develop a permanent narrowing of the bronchi that limits air flowing into and out of the lungs. This can cause serious complications and make treating their disease much more difficult.
One trigger for many people with asthma is the mold Aspergillus fumigatus (A. fumigatus) which is a common mold found in the soil or growing in piles of compost. Doctors have found that A. fumigatus can grow inside the lungs of people who have asthma and who are allergic to the mold. This can cause severe damage to the lungs.
Researchers at the Institute for Lung Health at the University of Leicester and Glenfield Hospital conducted a study to find out if this mold was more commonly found in the lungs of people with asthma than was previously believed. Although about half of all people with severe asthma are allergic to molds like A. fumigatus, scientists believed that only a small number of people had mold actually growing in their lungs.
When researchers took a sample of spit from people with asthma and tested it in the lab, they found that six out of 10 people with asthma who are allergic to mold had that mold in their spit, which means the mold is growing in their lungs. This is significant because they also found that patients who are allergic to A. fumigatus have more narrowing in their bronchi than patients who were not allergic. The worst cases of airway narrowing were found in patients who had mold growing in their lungs.
The researchers concluded that the mold in the lungs may be the reason the airways become narrowed in many patients. Because mold can be treated with antibiotics, this research may lead to new standards of treatment that will use antibiotics to eliminate the mold which could have the added benefit of preventing the airways from becoming narrowed.