Every day, you encounter irritants that can harm your lungs. Some are obvious, such as smoking or exposure to car fumes. But did you know that even the bedding in your home can seriously affect your breathing?
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“Feather duvet lung” is an inflammatory reaction to goose or duck feathers in linens. It’s a form of the lung condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which itself is one of many disorders that fall under the umbrella of interstitial lung disease (ILD).
The causes of ILD aren’t always clear-cut. If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and chest pain — and no diagnosis yet — it’s crucial to work with your doctors to determine all the possible reasons. The answer may be completely unexpected.
If you have a reaction to down linens, simply get rid of them. But sometimes removing the irritants may mean the loss of a pet or hobby. Your long-term health is most important.
Many conditions, many causes
You may also hear ILD called interstitial pneumonia. Regardless of the name, though, ILD generally includes scarring, known as pulmonary fibrosis. This scarring and associated inflammation may affect how your lungs function.
In some cases, ILD may be caused by exposure to inhaled irritants, including dust, mold, asbestos, silica and metals. Many causes of ILD are related to specific jobs. If you work in construction, manufacturing or farming, your risk is higher.
But you don’t have to work in hazardous conditions to develop ILD. One form, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, has several hundred known causes.
“We never cease to be amazed by some of the things that cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis in some people’s environments,” says pulmonary specialist Daniel Culver, DO.
Feather duvet lung is just one example. In fact, it’s one type of a larger condition called bird fancier’s lung, one of the most common forms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Bird owners need to be aware that feathers and droppings can cause an inflammatory response in the lungs. Seek medical attention if symptoms develop.
Even arts and crafts can be a culprit. The materials used in a number of hobbies have the potential to cause harm. Long-term inhalation of the dust from wood, silica and other substances can all lead to ILD.
The list of possible causes stretches on, from microwave popcorn to hot tubs — just to name a few. With so many possible causes, be prepared if you visit a doctor about lung symptoms. To solve what often is a mystery, doctors must thoroughly comb through occupational history, information on home and work environments, hobbies and other nonmedical factors to find out exactly what is contributing to your illness.
“The diagnostic parts of it are challenging and interesting, and every patient has the potential to throw you a curveball,” Dr. Culver says.
Reducing your risk
Many of these risk factors have one thing in common: You can reduce your exposure to them.
However, there are no hard and fast rules for determining your risk of ILD, Dr. Culver says. “There are issues with duration, intensity of exposure and latency.”
If environmental factors are to blame for ILD, removing the irritants that are causing the problem is a crucial first step. Sometimes that’s simple. If you have a reaction to down linens, simply get rid of them. But sometimes removing the irritants may mean the loss of a pet or hobby. Your long-term health is most important.
If your livelihood depends on working in conditions in which you’re regularly exposed to pollutants, avoiding the problem may be more challenging. But safety measures as simple as wearing masks and other protective gear can go a long way toward keeping lungs healthy.
Also, remember that most interstitial lung diseases are rare. If you practice good hygiene, you’re already protecting yourself against illness.
“A lot of it comes down to genetics and having the right milieu to set up the problems — not the idea that everyone is at risk and we’re living in a toxic soup,” Dr. Culver says.