What is feather lungs

Medical individual case: feather bed makes a man seriously ill

Among poultry farmers, animal dealers and parrot owners, the bird keeper's lung is a not uncommon and notifiable occupational disease: severe pneumonia caused by animal proteins in the feathers and feces of the animals. But birdless people can also get it without the cause being apparent at first glance. This is shown by the case study from "BMJ Case Reports" about a 43-year-old British man who had to go to hospital after three months of suffering with shortness of breath and pronounced states of exhaustion.

Initially, he was treated for a respiratory infection, but to no avail. On the contrary, his condition soon worsened so severely that he was unable to work for weeks and after just a few steps he could hardly breathe. As he stated, it took him half an hour to climb the stairs to his bedroom at the end: after every two steps he had to sit down and rest.

Doctors did not track the cause for a long time: practically no mold infestation was found in his house - the fungi can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. The man owned a dog and a cat, but they could also be excluded as a factor. On the other hand, he did not keep birds and did not come into close contact with these animals, which is why doctors initially did not consider them as a trigger - the corresponding allergens were apparently not present.

It was only when the respiratory specialist Owen Dempsey from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was called in that the treating doctors got on the right track. It still had to do with feathers: the health problems started after the man swapped his synthetic bedding for duvets. As a result, the patient developed a rare sub-form of the bird-holder's lung, known as the feather-bed lung. He had inhaled dust from duck or goose feathers from the pillow and duvet, causing an allergic inflammatory reaction. If left untreated, this can even lead to chronic pulmonary fibrosis.

Blood tests showed that the person concerned had extremely high antibodies against the feather dust allergens in the blood. Lung scans finally revealed the typical signs of pneumonia caused by hypersensitivity. With this diagnosis, the man could ultimately be treated correctly: He immediately removed the down bedding and was given steroids, which took effect within two days. A year later he reached an age-appropriate blood oxygen saturation of 97 to 98 percent.

The doctors warn that feather beds could be a previously underestimated source of risk for the bird keeper's lungs - especially since it can take up to five years for the first symptoms to appear. When taking the anamnesis, pulmonologists should therefore also pay attention to how patients sleep, so the request.