A fungus ball is a clump of aspergilloma fungus that can grow and cause infection in body cavities, usually the lungs, sinuses or ear canals. When fungus balls infect the lungs, the condition is known as pulmonary aspergilloma. In rare instances, fungus balls can grow in the kidneys or brain. Fungus balls, also known as aspergillomas or mycetomas, are one of a group of fungal diseases collectively referred to aspergillosis, all of which are the result of inhaling spores of Aspergillus fumigatus, a mold.
The lung is the most common organ for infection by fungus balls. Most people who inhale spores of Aspergillus fumigatus will not develop aspergillomas. They tend to develop in people who have some form of lung disease such as tuberculosis or who have immune systems that have been compromised. A fungus ball doesn't always cause symptoms. People who have aspergillomas can often live many years without noticing anything wrong, and an aspergilloma diagnosis may only be made when these patients have x-rays.
When fungus balls grow, they sometimes penetrate body tissue and cause bleeding. Aspergillomas are made not only of fungus strands but also of dead tissue, mucus and white blood cells. When the lungs are affected, aspergilloma symptoms include coughing up blood, chest pain and fever. Fungus balls don't tend to spread to other areas of the body.
Aspergillomas don't require treatment when they are asymptomatic. If a patient is aware of the presence of a fungus ball, however, he or she will need to have a medical professional keep a close watch on it by means of regular x-rays. Aspergilloma treatment is crucial if the fungus ball causes bleeding, but anti-fungal medications don't work well on fungus balls because the structures are difficult to penetrate.
Embolization is a procedure that is often chosen by doctors to stop the bleeding caused by problematic fungus balls. In this aspergilloma treatment, a doctor threads a catheter into the vessel that supplies blood to the cavity in which the fungus ball resides. Through the catheter, the doctor introduces a substance that will close the blood vessel. Sometimes, however, there is no other option but for the fungus ball to be surgically removed.
Aspergillus fumigatus is a common fungus and is classified in the same family as bread mold. It grows on decomposing vegetable matter such as dead leaves and also on bird dung. The fungus is often present in compost material and is sometimes found airborne along with dust.