Most Horses With Inflammatory Airway Disease Exposed to Fungi

Researchers have discovered that breathing in various kinds of molds can cause a horse to develop IAD.
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Most Horses With Inflammatory Airway Disease Exposed to Fungi
Researchers have recently discovered that breathing in various kinds of molds can cause a horse to develop IAD. | Photo: iStock
Researchers and veterinarians know there’s a link between environmental contaminants (such as dust particles and fungi) and the disorders under the equine asthma umbrella—inflammatory airway disease (IAD) and the more severe recurrent airway obstruction (RAO, often referred to as heaves). However, researchers have only recently discovered that breathing in various kinds of molds can cause a horse to develop IAD, said Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, of Equine Sports Medicine Practice, in Waterloo, Belgium.

“These airway problems are underdiagnosed, and we should be more aware of how important the environment is for the health and performance of our horses,” she said.

Van Erck-Westergren and colleagues evaluated 731 sport horses, averaging 8 years old, referred to her practice for breathing difficulties, poor performance, or routine exams. In each case, the clinicians performed an airway endoscopy, a tracheal wash (flushing saline into the windpipe and drawing the “wash” back up with a syringe to evaluate respiratory secretions), and a brochoalveolar lavage (injecting sterile fluid into a horse’s lung before drawing it back out again to look for signs of inflammation) and asked the owners questions about their horses’ food and bedding.

They diagnosed 88% of the horses with IAD, she said. Of those, 81% had fungal elements visible in the tracheal wash; the tracheal wash was the most reliable method for detecting fungal particles in her study, she added. The team also found that horses with fungal elements in the tracheal wash were more than twice as likely to have IAD than those without

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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