You could develop a disease from your feather duvet - here are the symptoms

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 2:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 2:59 pm

Doctors have warned that curling up under a feather duvet this winter could cause you to develop a little-known disease.

A case of so-called ‘feather duvet lung’ has been reportedly caused by a patient breathing in dust from the feathers in bedding, which prompts inflammation of the lungs.

Medical professionals have been warned to be on the lookout for patients that come to them with unexplained breathlessness, with doctors pointing out that feather duvet lung could be the cause.

What is it?

Experts say that the condition is a form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and is caused by an immune response.

The symptoms are dry throat, night sweats and a cough. Repeated exposure to the dust from feathers that causes this reaction can cause permanent scarring of the lungs.

In their report, the researchers write, “Healthcare professionals are typically taught to ask patients with respiratory symptoms whether they have pets at home, such as birds, but in the authors’ experience, history-taking does not usually extend to asking about feather exposure in duvets and pillows.”

They add that this is an important omission as feather bedding is common and could easily be a cause of the respiratory symptoms.

Dr Owen Dempsey, consultant chest physician at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and a co-author of the report, urged people to keep an eye out for any of the symptoms of they have switched to feather bedding.

He said that although not many cases had been reported, this initial one might be the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to understanding a number of cases where patients struggle with respiratory difficulties.

Man was breathless for months

The report focuses on the known case of a non-smoking 43 year old man who went to his GP after he had been suffering from breathlessness and fatigue for months.

Describing his symptoms, the man said, “There was a rapid decline in my health and the lack of a diagnosis after four appointments at the GP surgery was extremely distressing at the time.

“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. I was signed off work and spent most of the time asleep.”

The man’s blood tests and chest x-rays were normal, and so Dr Dempsey researched the man’s personal situation, discovering that the man had recently switched to feather bedding.

Further tests found the man reacted to particular proteins from birds, and patterns in the lungs suggested hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Within a month of getting rid of the feather bedding the man showed signs of improvement as his breathing started to return to normal. His recovery was complete within six months after a course of steroids.

The researchers concluded that the most likely diagnosis was feather duvet lung, which is a rare subgroup of bird fancier’s lung, caused by exposure to bird feathers and droppings.

‘Important for doctors to be nosy’

Dr Dempsey stressed that this diagnosis reflects the fact there are hundreds of kinds of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and that doctors should be open minded when trying to find what can cause it.

He said, “For medical professionals it is really important to be nosy and take a meticulous history and ask people about exposures because there are lots of things people do that we don’t always appreciate when we are sitting in a clinic or surgery.”