Curling up under a thick feather duvet may be tempting, but doctors warn the bedding may be responsible for "feather duvet lung" as a man falls extremely ill after switching his bedding. The lung inflammation caused by breathing in dust from the feathers in the bed was diagnosed in the 43-year-old non-smoking man as he visited his GP after experiencing three months of breathlessness, fatigue and feeling unwell.
Healthcare officials have called for medical professionals to be on the alert if patients turn up with unexplained breathlessness as the condition, a form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, with symptoms including night sweats, a dry cough, and shortness of breath, is down to an immune response.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) happens when your lungs develop an immune response to something you breathe, resulting in the inflammation of lung tissue – pneumonitis, and plagues one per cent of farmers, according to estimates.
Bird fancier's lung, another form of the disorder, is triggered by particles from feathers or bird droppings. Doctors say repeated exposure to "feather, rather than synthetic, bedding", which is quite "common", can cause irreversible scarring of the lungs.
"Healthcare professionals are typically taught to ask patients with respiratory symptoms whether they have pets at home, such as birds, but history-taking does not usually extend to asking about feather exposure in duvets and pillows," Dr Owen Dempsey, consultant chest physician at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, explained in a report.
Dempsey said people should not rush to throw away their duvet and pillows but must observe if they experience breathing problems on switching to featherbedding. Feather Duvet Lung appears to be rare as the report only covers one case of feather duvet lung, but Dr Dempsey, the lead author of the report published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, said many cases could go unnoticed.
Dempsey and colleagues from Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary described the man's symptoms, which were earlier put down to a lower respiratory tract infection, worsened after a brief improvement.
The report mentioned the unnamed patient as saying that he was "unable to stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time" within two months of the onset of the symptoms, and felt that he 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," the report quoted the patient as saying. Concerned by his x-ray, which was reported as normal, Dempsey delved into the man's personal situation and learned he had recently switched from synthetic to featherbedding.
The doctor then advised the man to ditch the bedding, check his chimney and loft for birds, and make sure any mould in the house was treated. The medical practitioner said the man, who had unusually high antibodies towards particular proteins from birds including pigeons and parrots, showed improvements within a month of shedding the featherbedding.
"In some individuals that meet proteins from bird droppings or dust from their feathers, their immune system behaves in an exaggerated fashion -- think Donald Trump rather than Barack Obama," the doctor said, adding the man, with a subsequent course of steroids, felt completely well after six months.
Other forms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis include "farmer's lung", "bagpiper's lung", "paprika slicer's lung", and even "mummy-handler's lung" due to the wide range of activities linked with breathing in substances that can cause serious lung inflammation.