For those Arizona residents over the age of fifty (50), the air we breathe presents special concerns. First, there is very little humidity or moisture in the air. Forty percent moisture is considered normal humidity for humans, but Central and Southern Arizona normally has less than fifteen percent. Second, our state has the highest concentration of the soil-dwelling Coccidioidomycotic fungus in the U.S. that causes Valley Fever.
A recent article from the University of Arizona states the following:
Valley Fever (coccidioidomycotic, or cocci) is caused by the soil-dwelling fungus, Coccidiosis’s immitis. The tiny seeds, or spores, become wind-borne and are inhaled into the lungs, where the infection starts.
When soils containing the fungus are disturbed and dust is raised, spores may be inhaled with the dust. Dust disturbing activities include, the wind, construction, farming, among others. Once inside the lung, the spore transforms itself into a larger, multicellular structure called a spherule. The spherule continues to grow and will eventually burst, releasing endospores which develop into new spherules, and then repeats the cycle
Valley Fever is a sickness of degree. About 60 percent of the people who breathe the spores do not get sick at all. For some it may feel like a cold or flu. For those sick enough to go to the doctor, it can be serious, with pneumonia-like symptoms, requiring medications and bed rest. Of all the people infected with Valley Fever, one or more out of 200 will develop the disseminated form, which is devastating, and can be fatal. These are the cases in which the disease spreads beyond the lungs through the bloodstream – typically to the skin, bones and the membranes surrounding the brain, causing meningitis.
This article tells us that 60 percent of the people who breathe these spores do not get sick. This percentage changes as a person grows older. The reason is that aging changes how our body works and this is particularly true of the lungs. MedlinePlus recently published an article on the effects of aging on the lungs where they list how our bodies change. This list includes:
- Changes to lung tissues – Muscles and other tissues that are near your airways may lose their ability to keep the airways completely open. Aging can also cause the air sacs to lose their shape and become baggy.
- Changes to the nervous system – Parts of the brain that controls breathing may lose some of its function, resulting in labored breathing. Also, large amounts of particles like smoke or germs (fungus) may collect in the lungs.
- Changes to the immune system – As you age, your immune systems can get weaker. This means your body is less able to fight lung infections and diseases or to recover after exposure to smoke or harmful particles in the air.
There is a long list of respiratory issues that are specific to senior citizens such as lung infections (pneumonia, bronchitis, flu, colds, and Valley Fever), shortness of breath, low oxygen levels, and abnormal breathing patterns.
To prevent these conditions and the effects of aging on our lungs, there are several recommendations:
- Do not smoke
- Do some form of physical exercise
- Use humidifiers indoors and misting outdoors. Moisture plays an essential role in healthy breathing, and misting dramatically reduces air pollutants such dust, pollen, insects, odors, and air borne contaminates such as Valley Fever spores.