A man was left almost unable to walk upstairs in his home after his bedding caused a condition known as “feather duvet lung.”
The unnamed 43-year-old man from Scotland in the U.K. visited his family doctor, complaining that he had struggled with breathlessness, fatigue and a sense of malaise over the past three months, according to a case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
His doctor told him he likely had a respiratory tract infection, and his symptoms got better. But later that month, his condition got so bad he had to take two weeks off work. Scans and blood tests, however, couldn’t reveal the problem.
A month after he first visited the doctor, he found himself getting breathless walking between rooms. His family doctor referred him to a specialist.
A scan of his lungs suggested he had what is known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Also called extrinsic allergic alveolitis, this is where the immune system causes lung tissue to become inflamed.
Tests showed the man’s blood contained antibodies to bird feather dust. Curiously, the man didn’t own any birds. But he told doctors he had recently acquired a duvet and pillows filled with feathers. Hospital staff advised him to get rid of the bedding.
The man followed the advice and also took medicine to reduce his lung inflammation. His symptoms improved.
Doctors said his case was an example of “feather duvet lung.” This rare condition occurs when the organic dust from duck or goose feathers found in duvets and pillows is inhaled.
Its symptoms are non-specific, and range from malaise to flu-like symptoms, according to the doctors.
“It is therefore entirely probable that cases of FDL [feather duvet lung] are missed, or at best, diagnosed late,” they wrote in BMJ Case Reports.
The patient was treated by doctors at the Victoria Hospital and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
The man was quoted in the case report: “Hypersensitivity pneumonitis has had a great effect on my life at the time. I started getting dizzy spells on exertion.
“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 (day and night),” he recalled.
Dr. Owen J Dempsey of the respiratory medicine department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen, U.K., who treated the man, told Newsweek in an email that the case “is a fairly dramatic example of how our immune system in the lungs, in some individuals can react to seemingly innocuous triggers in the environment, e.g. feathers in bedding.”
Dempsey recalled the patient “was dramatically breathless for such a young man.”
The take-home message, he said, is not to get rid of feather pillows, duvets and cushions, which can be expensive, but rather to be alert to the possibility that feather bedding can, in some genetically susceptible individuals, result in lung symptoms like coughing and breathlessness.
“Removal of the feather bedding may be all that is needed, although in our case I opted to add in some steroids given the severity of his symptoms for their anti-inflammatory effects,” he said.
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