Can Spores Grow in Your Lungs? (Solved & Explained!)

Fungal spores can enter anyone’s lungs, but they don’t always cause disease. Elderly people or those with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk from infectious spores. To prevent spores from infecting your lungs, you should minimize your exposure to them by reducing moisture in your home that fungi thrive on.

In this article we will explain what types of fungal spores can infect your lungs, how you can reduce your risk of exposure, and what to do if you suspect you have a fungal infection in your lungs.

What are spores?

Spores are single bacterial or fungal cells that are dormant but can grow into harmful disease-causing colonies in the right conditions.

Most spores are harmless, but as the CDC explains, some species of fungi such as Aspergillus are known to cause disease. They require moisture and a source of food to grow, so they’re not that different from us after all!

How can spores enter your lungs?

Fungal spores enter the lungs constantly as you breathe, so it is impossible to avoid a certain level of exposure to spores.

Fortunately, your immune system is a highly sophisticated spore killing machine. It has been shown by researchers at MPIIB to utilize amazing mechanisms such as literally throwing a “net” of DNA over the invaders and releasing chemicals to destroy them. Cool, huh?

Who is at risk of an infection of fungal spores?

Individuals with weak or compromised immune systems such as the elderly, those suffering from cancer or AIDS, or those taking immunity suppressing medication are most at risk from fungal spores.

Since the immune system protects you from spores, groups with lower immune function are at the most risk from fungal infections. Other at-risk groups include those with asthma, a history of lung infections, or people who have had organ/limb transplants.

What are the symptoms of a fungal lung infection?

The symptoms of a fungal lung infection can vary in terms of severity, but most infections cause chest pain and a persistent cough.

Below is a table comparing the symptoms of various fungal lung infections associated with Aspergillus, although advice from The Mayo Clinic suggests other species of fungi are known to cause similar diseases.

Type of AspergillosisAt-risk groupsSymptoms
Allergic Bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)Those with asthma or cystic fibrosis.Wheezing, Shortness of breath, Cough, Fever (in rare cases).
Allergic Aspergillus sinusitisPeople with an allergy to fungal spores.Stuffiness, Runny nose, Headache, Reduced ability to smell.
AspergillomaSufferers of tuberculosis or other lung diseases.Coughing up blood, chest pain, blood in urine, headaches.
Invasive aspergillosisPeople with other medical conditions and with weak immune systems.Fever, Chest pain, Coughing up blood, Shortness of breath. Can be life-threatening.  

What should I do if I have symptoms and what are the treatments?

If you develop any of the symptoms above, visit your local healthcare provider as soon as possible. The outlook for fungal infections of the lung is high, especially when treated early.

Although the symptoms of Aspergillosis are similar to those of less dangerous infections like a cold or flu, it is important to seek medical advice if symptoms persist or worsen. However, if you’re in an at-risk group, seek medical attention immediately at the first sign of any symptoms.

Treatment typically involves a course of antifungal drugs such as Voriconazole, but in severe cases of Invasive Aspergillosis or Aspergilloma surgery may be required to remove infected tissue.

How can I reduce my risk of a fungal infection?

To reduce your risk of a fungal infection, remove sources of spores from your home, and improve your immune system to help fight any spores that are unavoidable.

A healthy immune system is key to reducing your risk of a lung fungal infection. A well-balanced diet of fruit and vegetables provides your body with the micronutrients it needs to effectively fight off infections.

To further reduce risk, eliminate sources of spores by removing black mold from moisture-laden areas of your home.

What is the most common source of spores in my home?

Black mold can refer to many different species of mold, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, which can produce harmful mycotoxins. It grows on moist organic matter with high cellulose content such as wood and can be found in damp homes.

According to UCLA Lecturer Dr. Donald G. Barceloux, black mold does not cause disease more often than other species of fungi. This is because black mold typically releases low amounts of airborne spores.

Like being poked by an annoying sibling, fungus releases many more spores when disturbed by mechanical force such as cleaning.

Can spores get in my lungs when gardening?

The short answer is yes, but not if you protect yourself appropriately. Here we’ll cover what type of spores can live in your garden.

According to the CDC, some types of spores such as Sporothrix are mostly found in plant matter such as hay, sphagnum moss, and soil. “Rose gardener’s disease” is caused by this type of spore, which shows similar symptoms to Aspergillosis: chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever.

Care should be taken when handling any organic waste, especially if you’re in an at-risk group. High concentrations of spores have been found in old bags of compost, and even opening the lid of an organic waste bin can release spores, according to University of Leipzig pulmonologist Harald Morr.

How can I prevent spores from entering my lungs?

When gardening, cleaning black mold or even taking out the trash, you’re most at risk from an infection. To protect yourself, wear an N95 respirator, or other high-quality respirators.

The FDA recommends an N95 respirator to prevent inhalation of not only spores but also other harmful microorganisms. It has a close facial fit and is designed to filter the air efficiently. A regular surgical mask like you might use to protect against covid would not block out the spores effectively. So be sure to protect yourself before tackling that pesky mold!