There’s more than one way to contract pneumonia, and one of those ways is through various fungi. Yep—we said “fungi,” as in the plural of fungus.
A fungus is classified as any eukaryotic organism, including yeasts and molds. And yes, fungi can infect your body and cause a type of pneumonia that’s aptly named, “fungal pneumonia.”
Fungal pneumonia is not as common as other types of pneumonia (like bacterial or viral), but it can be incredibly serious—even fatal—particularly in immunocompromised people. Fungal pneumonia typically occurs in people with an abnormally low number of a specific type of white blood cell called neutropenia, but it also appears in patients with COPD, people who use have a history of long-term steroid use, and other demographics. (Read more below.)
The fungi that cause fungal pneumonia can be endemic (a fungus that’s native and restricted to a specific place) or opportunistic (a fungus that wouldn’t normally cause infections in otherwise healthy people, but are able to cause an infection due to many factors including organ transplant, cancer, immunodeficiency, etc.)
Fungal pneumonia is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment. Read more below to learn the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options available for fungal pneumonia.
Fungal Pneumonia Symptoms
The symptoms of fungal pneumonia are typically difficult to distinguish from other common respiratory ailments. People with fungal pneumonia sometimes present with:
- Cough (typically nonproductive)
- Chest pain or dull discomfort
- Rheumatologic (related to the joints) symptoms
- Hypersensitivity or allergic reactions
In neutropenic or immunocompromised persons, a persistent fever may be an early warning sign of an infection.
NOTE: If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and have HIV/AIDS or are in another way immunocompromised, contact your physician immediately. Fungal pneumonia can be fatal if left untreated in immunocompromised people. You can reach us at 423-710-3864.
Fungal Pneumonia Risk Factors
A person’s risk for contracting fungal pneumonia depends on whether the fungi are endemic or opportunistic.
Risk Factors for Endemic Fungi
People who work with or are regularly exposed to the excrement of birds, bats, or rodents in endemic areas are at risk of contracting fungal pneumonia. Additionally, landscapers, farmers, gardners, or other people who regularly work with soil are at a higher risk of contracting particular types of endemic fungi due to their chance of cuts/puncture wounds while working with soil (thus exposing them to these fungi.)
Risk Factors for Opportunistic Fungi
There are many diseases or conditions that make a person more susceptible to contracting fungal pneumonia due to opportunistic fungi. Some of these conditions include:
- Acute leukemia/lymphoma during myeloablative (high-dose chemotherapy targeted to cancer cells in the bone marrow) chemotherapy
- Bone marrow/peripheral blood stem cell transplantation
- Prolonged exposure to corticosteroids
- Congenital immunodeficiency syndromes (these syndromes are present at birth)
- Acquired immunodeficiency syndromes (like HIV/AIDs)
- Solid organ transplantation
Fungal Pneumonia Diagnosis
Diagnosing fungal pneumonia can be difficult, but the most effective methods of testing for fungal pneumonia include:
- Microscopic examination
- Fungal culture (collecting a sample of respiratory fluids and testing them)
- Antigen (a toxin or other foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body) and antibody testing
- Molecular testing to detect the genetic material of the fungus causing the infection
Sometimes, x-rays and chest CT scans will be ordered to assist in the detection of fungal masses that can develop in the lungs.
Fungal Pneumonia Treatments
Typically, fungal pneumonia can be treated with antifungal drugs. In advanced cases, surgical debridement may be necessary. This is the surgical removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue.
As stated above, fungal pneumonia can be deadly for immunocompromised people. It’s important to see your doctor immediately if you are at increased risk of contracting fungal pneumonia and are having respiratory issues.
The Lung Docs: Specialized Pulmonary Care
The Lung Docs provides specialized, state-of-the-art pulmonary care to our patients with fungal pneumonia in Chattanooga and the surrounding Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia areas.
Dr. Mike’s Approach
’m Dr. Mike Czarnecki, “The Lung Doc,” and I’m trained in all areas of pulmonary health, including the diagnosis and treatment of fungal pneumonia. I will work with you to formulate a personalized fungal pneumonia treatment plan so you can live, laugh, love, and breathe better again! To get started, schedule an appointment online or call our office to speak to someone directly. I can’t wait to meet you!