Inhaling puffball spores can lead to a respiratory illness called Lycoperdonosis. Nausea and vomiting often appear within a few hours of inhalation. Within 3-7 days after inhalation, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, fever, aches and pains, and pneumonia may occur. Cases can be mild and resolve with corticosteroid treatments, while some individuals required hospitalization and even intubation to assist their breathing.
Why is Inhaling Puffball Spores So Dangerous?
Puffball mushrooms, when mature, release spores that irritate the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. This leads to inflammation and activation of the immune system (explaining why people often have symptoms like nausea and pains, much like the symptoms of a common cold).
Are All Puffballs Dangerous?
There are many kinds of mushroom species out there, and it is well-known that some are poisonous and others are a healthy food source. Research indicates that most cases of lycoperdonosis come from strains of the Lycoperdon family (hence the name). These puffballs are white when young and turn brown as they age and begin to decay.
Other species, however, have been known to be related to lycoperdonosis, so it is not a good idea to assume it’s safe to inhale spores if you determine it is not from the Lycoperdon family.
Are Some People More Sensitive to Puffball Spores?
As of a 2018 publication in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, it is unclear whether individuals with respiratory diseases (like asthma) are more susceptible to the harmful effects of puffball spores. However, there are several reported cases of people with asthma suffering from respiratory distress following exposure to puffball spores.
In other words, having asthma or another lung disease, such as COPD, may or may not increase your personal risk of illness after exposure to puffball spores. So even if you have a healthy respiratory system, it is best to avoid exposure to these spores, especially in large amounts.
Are Puffball Spores Only Dangerous to Humans?
No. Dogs have been known to fall ill after exposure to puffball spores. Both you and your dog should avoid prolonged exposure to areas with puffball mushrooms.
Remember that your dog is also much closer to the ground, and therefore the spores, than you are generally. Be mindful when going for walks in nature to help avoid any unnecessary exposure.
Has Anyone Ever Died from Inhaling Puffball spores?
There are no known cases of humans dying from inhaling puffball spores. However, there have been a few reports of fatal cases after dogs had been exposed. The dogs had usually been digging in a spore-laden area, meaning they likely inhaled a very, very large amount of spores.
If you have a dog, there is no reason to be fearful if you happen to cross paths with a puffball during an outing, as this is unlikely to cause severe illness for either you or your dog. However, you want to be mindful of preventing prolonged exposure to the spores as this is what most likely led to the fatal outcomes for the aforementioned dogs.
So How Can I Avoid Puffball Spores?
Avoidance is the obvious answer. Puffball spores are commonly found in the woods or very grassy areas. They often live upon the soil or on decaying wood.
Of course, sometimes you simply cannot avoid being around the puffballs. If this is the case, try to limit the amount of time you are in areas with large amounts of puffballs. If prolonged exposure is inevitable, a good idea is to wear a face mask, which will help reduce the amount of spores you actually inhale.
How Do I Know if I Have Puffball Spore Related Illness?
If you inhaled puffball spores, whether intentionally or accidentally, you might experience symptoms shortly afterwards. You might feel like you are out of breath, like you might throw up (or you may actually vomit!), have aches and pains similar to how you feel when you catch a cold, run a fever, etc. Any of these can be signs of puffball spore inhalation and should be addressed.
How is Puffball Spore Inhalation Treated?
Corticosteroids are often the first line of defense against a suspected case of lycoperdonosis. Corticosteroids work by reducing the inflammation the spores caused in the air sacs of the lungs. Sometimes antimicrobials (which serve to destroy harmful bacteria) are also prescribed.
In many cases, this treatment has worked well. However, as noted above, sometimes people have had to be admitted to a hospital.
What Happens if I am Hospitalized for Puffball Spore Inhalation?
If you happen to suffer from severe symptoms, you might end up admitted to a hospital. You will likely have a chest X-ray performed to assess the condition of your lungs. This X-ray can tell your doctor if you have pneumonia (or signs similar to pneumonia, which help explain your symptoms and direct treatment).
You will be given corticosteroids, and perhaps also given antimicrobials, just like if you were being treated without hospitalization. However, you will also need other intervention due to the more severe symptoms.
For example, you might need breathing treatments, or in truly serious cases, intubation in order to maintain breathing. You will also be given standard care, such as IV fluids to keep hydrated.
Why Would Anyone Want to Inhale Puffball Spores?
Given how dangerous it can be to inhale, it seems wild that sometimes people intentionally inhale the spores! Folk medicine is a primary reason, with people inhaling the spores as a remedy for nosebleeds. However, there have been cases in which illness occurred after such inhalation, meaning it is probbaly for the best to treat nosebleeds without resorting to inhaling spores.
Sometimes people seek to inhale the spores to get “high”, most likely because it is well-known that mushrooms can cause hallucinogenic effects. Do not attempt this; it is dangerous and not worth the risk of lung injury and/or damage.
Find out why inhaling puffball spores is a dangerous activity that can lead to respiratory illness.
Hi, I’m John Stephens, chief editor and writer for Totalgardener.com. I’ve been gardening and raising animals for over 15 years starting with a small backyard plot in Northern Virginia where I grew corn, potatoes, squash, and using a high mulch technique called the Ruth Stout Method. I also raised ducks and small mammals for meat and eggs in a movable pen similar to the ones used by Joel Salatin. I later moved to Colorado where I experimented with growing greens using aquaponics inside. I eventually added a microgreens setup and home sprouting operation. I’m excited to share everything I’ve learned plus more from the other local gardening and animal raising experts I know.