A middle-aged man developed a life threatening lung condition after buying feather-filled bedding, it has been revealed.
He felt so unwell, tired and breathless the simplest activities became a chore – such as going from room to room at home or walking up the stairs.
Doctors have dubbed it ‘feather duvet lung’.
The Scot was a non-smoker – but had recently swapped a synthetic cover and pillows for feather filled bedding.
After being referred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary he was diagnosed by respiratory specialist Dr Owen Dempsey as having hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
The illness sees the air sacs and airways in the lungs become severely inflamed. It’s triggered by an allergic reaction to inhaled dust from feathers – and is common among bird fanciers.
The married office worker began getting better – as soon as he was told to get rid of his feather duvet and pillows.
He told BMJ Case Reports: “Hypersensitivity pneumonitis had a great effect on my life at the time. I started getting dizzy spells on exertion.
“There was a rapid decline in my health and the lack of a diagnosis after four appointments at the GP surgery was extremely distressing.
“Two months after the onset of the symptoms, I was unable to stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling like I was going to pass out.
“Going upstairs to bed was a 30 minute activity as I could only manage two stairs at a time and then needed to sit and rest.”
He was signed off work and spent most of the time asleep – both day and night.
The man added: “I am extremely grateful to my local GP for immediately referring my case to Dr Dempsey who quickly diagnosed me with hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
“I understand that it is an allergic reaction in my lungs to something breathed in.
“This reaction has caused my lungs to have reduced efficiency at oxygenating my blood, causing extreme light-headedness.”
Dr Dempsey said his symptoms improved within the first month once he disposed of the bedding – even before starting to take steroid pills.
The man was immediately advised advised to remove it from his bedroom – even before the damage to his lungs was identified in CT scans.
Dr Dempsey said: “We also advised him to get his bathroom mould treated and check there were no nesting birds in his loft or chimney.”
After being told a possible cause of the allergy was the feather duvet and pillows he replaced them with hypoallergenic bedding.
His breathing is now normal and he made a full recovery.
The man added: “I have not had any dizzy turns since recovering. It doesn’t affect me at all now and my life is pretty much as it was before.”
Feather duvet lung (FDL) is a form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by an over-reaction of immune cells.
Dr Dempsey said: “FDL is caused by inhalation of organic dust from duck or goose feathers found in duvets and pillows.”
A study by Spanish researchers in 2013 first warned feather pillows and duvets can cause chronic and potentially fatal shortness of breath.
Dr Dempsey said: “Our case reinforces the importance of taking a meticulous exposure history and asking about domestic bedding in patients with unexplained breathlessness.
“Prompt recognition and cessation of antigen exposure may prevent the development of irreversible lung fibrosis (scarring).”
The office worker went to his GP in November 2016 after suffering malaise, fatigue and breathlessness for three months, said Dr Dempsey.
It was initially thought he had a chest infection. His respiratory symptoms got so bad he took two weeks off sick later that month.
Dr Dempsey said: “He was a non-smoker, and normally well, apart from occasional sciatica and tinnitus.”
His blood, kidneys and liver were normal but by December he could hardly walk.
Dr Dempsey said: “By now he was describing breathlessness walking between rooms at home.”
During a phone interview it turned out he and his wife had a cat and a dog – but no birds.
Dr Dempsey added: “They had recently acquired a feather duvet and feather pillows, having formerly had synthetic bedding.
“His hobbies included playing music as part of a band (guitar, saxophone) and his work was office-based with no obvious occupational exposures.”
The researchers pointed out this is just one case. It’s not known how common feather duvet lung is. It’s often missed as doctors rarely ask patients about feather bedding.
But in the first four months of 2015 alone, seven million duvets were sold in the UK, they point out.
And repeated exposure to the culprit trigger in hypersensitivity pneumonitis can lead to irreversible scarring of the lung tissue, so it’s important to identify this promptly, they say.