Imagine battling mystery breathing difficulties only to discover you have mould growing inside your lungs – a condition that is deadly.
That was the experience of young Canberra woman Caitlin who survived the ordeal but now suffers lung scarring and intense pain whenever she breathes deeply or suffers an asthma flareup.
“…without the correct fungal treatment, eight out of 10 people can die from that, so at the point that I was at, I was really lucky to still be here, which was really shocking as well because I didn’t realise it was that serious,” Caitlin said.
Mould is today growing in many homes and natural environments across Australia’s east coast due to ongoing wet weather, to the point the wide-ranging infestation is labeled by some as a health crisis. The mould and mould spores are very common triggers for asthma flareups. Sometimes, as happened to Caitlin, breathing in the spores can cause additional health complications.
“You may not think it’s very dangerous, but I nearly died from mould, so it’s something you should be aware of, that you should take seriously,” Caitlin said.
“The type of mould – the Aspergillus – is really common in the environment… it’s not like it’s something easy to avoid. Most people can breathe it in and not have a lot of problems like I did, but people with asthma are really predisposed to have those problems.”
Asthma Australia is sharing Caitlin’s story to help people better understand that mould infestation outdoors and indoors can be a health risk, but by cleaning it safely, and with the right treatments if you notice symptoms, you can really reduce your risk significantly.
Asthma Australia’s medical advisor, Respiratory Specialist Associate Professor John Blakey, outlined the risks around mould and asthma.
He noted that one of the more common types of fungus worldwide is Aspergillus fumigatus. There are large amounts in garden soil, and it is dispersed easily in the air, resulting in contamination of many households’ surfaces. The spores are tough, can live for years and withstand temperatures of minus 100 degrees, and even withstand complete dehydration.
“An average Australian will breathe in far more than 100 Aspergillus spores today. In damp conditions such as those being experienced in many areas of the country at present, this exposure can be much higher,” Dr Blakey said.
“Allergic Broncho Pulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA) is a condition that affects people with asthma or cystic fibrosis. It is not common in the general community but is routinely seen in specialist asthma clinics. ABPA involves a very vigorous allergic type reaction to the fungus. The airway walls get damaged (known as bronchiectasis) and there is copious dense mucus.
“In other instances, fungal spores can germinate in the airway, with a reaction that can destabilise asthma. You might hear this referred to as SAFS – ‘severe asthma with fungal sensitisation’.
“If the fungus invades into the lung tissue from the airway, it is termed invasive aspergillosis. As it sounds, this is bad news. People with poor immunity are most at risk of this rare condition. These people are often already known to specialist clinics that help manage their risk.”
Asthma Australia is the leading organisation supporting people living with asthma, including efforts to address health risks in the physical environment, like mould.
If you notice any changes to your breathing, you should treat it immediately, according to the instructions on your asthma action plan. If symptoms persist, we recommend booking in to see your doctor quickly.
To remove mould from your home, we recommend someone who isn’t sensitive to mould takes on this task and as soon as possible. It is recommended to use a mix of 80% vinegar and 20% water. Everyone cleaning mould should use protective equipment including a P2 or N95 facemask, along with googles, shower cap, rubber gloves and shoes – especially if you have asthma.
As Caitlin’s experience shows, awareness and personal protection are important as mould continues to grow during this ongoing wet season, to reduce the risk of breathing in unwanted health problems.
“It was just a perfect storm. I’ve been an asthmatic since I was two years old, I was unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time and I breathed it in,” she said.
“I was just more likely to get the infection from it, but you don’t have to be asthmatic to have that experience – your odds are just a little lower, that’s all.
“I’m never going to be able to live life without that pain and it’s so much worse in the winter, because… you have less elasticity in your lungs when you’re breathing, and that just exacerbates all that pain.”
Check out the Asthma Australia mould fact sheet here: https://asthma.org.au/about-us/media/asthma-australia-urges-safe-clean-ups-as-mould-worsens/