For three months, a 43-year-old man in Scotland felt sick and tired, often experiencing breathlessness without relief. He sought medical attention and was subsequently diagnosed with a lower respiratory tract infection. Originally his symptoms were corrected – breathing became a little easier and he felt less tired. But a month later, his health regressed. Further analysis led to a diagnosis of an unusual but very real condition.
When his feeling of discomfort, fatigue and shortness of breath returned, the man, who was not identified in a report published Monday in BMJ Case Reports, was forced to take 14 days off. At this time, he even found it difficult to breathe as he walked between rooms in his home, the authors wrote.
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Surprised, the doctor who initially treated him at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary called one of the hospital's pulmonologists, Dr. Owen Dempsey, who reviewed the patient's history and called him. On the phone, "the patient sounded alarmingly tachypnoeic," or breathed quickly, according to the report.
Dempsey went on to ask the man questions, such as if he had any pets (he did, a dog and a cat), and if he was exposed to any mold (he was, there was some present in the bathroom, above the shower and window). But when asked if he was exposed to birds or slept on a feather bed, the man said yes to the latter. About the time he became ill, the patient and his wife had switched from synthetic bedding to a feather pillow and feather pillows, according to the report.
The man returned to the hospital for further testing. A more detailed CT scan showed that his lungs were inflamed, while blood tests showed that he had developed antibodies to goose or duck feather dust, which are often used in down products such as quilts, pillows, winter coats and more.
The patient was then diagnosed with "feather pigeon lung", a condition linked to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a disease "in which your lungs become inflamed as an allergic reaction to inhaled dust, fungus, mold or chemicals", according to the American Lung Association.
The man was prescribed steroids and changed his new bedding for a set of allergy-friendly material.
"His symptoms improved rapidly in the first month, even before they started oral corticosteroids," the doctors wrote in the report. Six months later, the man felt "absolutely fine."
The patient's case serves as an important reminder for doctors to take "really detailed history" of the people they treat, Dempsey told Live Science.
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"That way, they can reveal things in the environment that trigger lung disease," he added, noting the case does not mean that people who own products should eliminate them.
But, Dempsey added to The New York Times, "if you get shortness of breath or cough and it doesn't settle within a few weeks after you buy some feather beds, you should mention it to a clinician."