Pigeon Breeders & Lung Disease

Written by michael mcgrath
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Pigeon Breeders & Lung Disease
Exposure to pigeon dust can cause a serious allergic reaction known as pigeon fanciers' lung. (pigeon image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com)

Pigeon fanciers' lung describes an allergic reaction often seen in pigeon breeders. Up to 22 per cent of pigeon breeders exhibit symptoms of pigeon fanciers' lung, according to the British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research team. Pigeon fanciers' lung goes by several other names, including allergic alveolitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, bird breeders' lung and pigeon breeders' disease.

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Causes

Prolonged exposure to pigeon bloom causes pigeon breeders' disease, reports the British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research team. "Bloom" refers to microscopic feather particles. Airborne particles from pigeon droppings may also contribute to pigeon fanciers' lung, but feather dust is the main culprit. Bloom is small enough to enter the lungs' small air sacs, or alveoli, where the dust particles can cause an allergic reaction and inflammation. Pigeons are not the only birds capable of causing allergic alveolitis: Budgies and other pet birds can cause similar allergic reactions. Pigeon breeders' disease is not contagious.

Symptoms

The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports symptoms of pigeon breeders' lung can be acute or chronic. Acute pigeon breeders' lung causes symptoms within six hours of exposure to pigeon bloom. Acute symptoms include chills, coughing, fever, shortness of breath and generally feeling ill. Chronic pigeon fanciers' lung develops out of the acute disease and results in breathlessness, coughing, lack of appetite and weight loss. Left untreated, chronic pigeon breeders' disease can cause permanent lung damage.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of bird breeders' lung includes a symptom history, physical examination and blood tests. Pigeon breeders exhibiting respiratory symptoms should inform doctors of their hobby so pigeon fanciers' lung can be confirmed or ruled out. A doctor listening to the lungs with a stethoscope may hear crackling sounds as the patient breathes, according to the National Library of Medicine. Blood tests called hypersensitivity reveal high levels of antibodies to pigeon proteins. Chest X-rays may reveal changes to lung structure.

Treatment

The Health Central website reports that avoidance of pigeon bloom provides the best treatment for pigeon fanciers' lung. Corticosteroids provide relief from both acute and chronic symptoms by reducing inflammation in the lungs' air sacs. The British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research team suggests respiratory masks and protective clothing can help prevent symptoms in mild cases of pigeon breeders' lung. For severe symptoms, however, avoiding pigeons and pigeon bloom is the only effective treatment.

Prevention

Bird breeders' lung can take years to develop, according to the British Pigeon Fanciers Medical Research team, which offers suggestions for reducing the risk of allergic alveolitis. The team recommends all pigeon fanciers wear protective masks and coats when tending pigeons, especially when cleaning the pigeon loft. Because bloom dust is less than 5 microns, mask filters must be capable of filtering such small particles. The pigeon loft itself should be well-ventilated and not overcrowded.

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