Mould exposure causing COPD flare-ups, study finds

21-06-2021

A study by the University of Manchester and NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) has found that people with a common respiratory disease, COPD have more flare-ups when exposed to mould.

It is estimated that 1.2 million people are currently living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), making it the second most common lung disease in the UK, after asthma.

COPD describes a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because the airways have permanently narrowed. It is often likely to develop over the age of 35 and are, or have been a smoker, or had chest problems as a child.

Lead author Dr Chris Kosmidis, a senior lecturer at The University of Manchester and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Wythenshawe Hospital, said: "It must be stressed that most people will be unaffected by mould, but this research demonstrates quite clearly that people with COPD will have an increased risk of ill-health if exposed."

The small study involving 140 participants with the condition found that those exposed to mould were more likely to visit a GP most frequently regarding their breathing. Mould is present in homes and outdoors, but certain activities can also expose you, such as vacuuming, gardening, being around an agricultural environment or not asking people to remove their shoes when entering the home.

The research discovered that respondents were four times more likely to visit a GP for chest problems if they vacuumed more than once a week and three times more likely if they did not ask visitors to remove shoes when entering the home.

The study explains that the findings are most likely associated with Aspergillus, a mould found in decaying vegetation, compost, air conditioning and damp walls and ceilings. However, Aspergillus can also lead to a debilitating but rare condition called chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA), which causes shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing and weight loss. In addition to the findings, the study found that participants were twice as likely to have CPA if they lived within one mile of a farm or agricultural area.

Those with COPD should use preventative measures to reduce their exposure to mould. These could include:

  • ventilating the home often
  • opening a window during and after vacuuming
  • good maintenance of the vacuum cleaner
  • avoiding dust from carried into the house, for example, by taking shoes off on entering
  • taking care of visible mould in the home

Source: What is COPD? (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) | British Lung Foundation (blf.org.uk)