pigeon fanciers lung disease

Pigeon Fanciers Lung Disease

What is “pigeon lung disease”? It is an allergy to the pigeon dust – extrinsic allergic alveolitis – that affects about 20% of the pigeon fanciers, with different degrees of severity. With the right mask protection and loft setup you can still enjoy the pigeon hobby.

Pigeon Lung Symptoms

Exposed to the pigeon dust, your symptoms may vary depending on your sensitivity and also on the intensity of exposure. Some fanciers only get symptoms after the initial exposure and then they are fine.

Pigeon lung symptoms:

  • chills
  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • fatigue

Years ago when I had pigeon lung, usually the symptoms were worse in winter and less severe or absent in summer. While doing research I noticed that other fanciers with pigeon lung also mentioned that their symptoms are worse during cold months and they feel better or even don’t have any symptoms in summer. This is really interesting and must be studied more, maybe we find an useful connection. In fact, please see the discussion about vitamin D below.

I created this page for all the fanciers with this allergy to exchange tips and ideas. Let’s help each other to easily manage pigeon lung and keep our pigeons and beloved hobby.

Below is a list of resources about pigeon fanciers lung. I will update this list every time I find interesting and useful information. Please contribute with your knowledge. More about this allergy on pigeon-lung.co.uk.

I gave up pigeons in 2009 because of pigeon lung and some other reasons. But as you know it, it’s not easy to stay away from pigeons, they’re like a drug. In 2011 I built new lofts and got back in the pigeon hobby. The doctor I visited years ago said I must be crazy to go on raising pigeons since I also had asthma as a kid. I am sad that the medical world does too little for us, the pigeon fanciers. I rarely see new info or articles about bird fanciers lung. All they say is: get rid of your pigeons. Easy to say, hard to do.

I had the biggest problems when I was away from my pigeons for more than 2 weeks, and then I got back. I used to get chills and fever a few hours after entering the pigeon loft. I didn’t get more fever or chills the next days. Never got shortness of breath. As the body got used to the dust again, I only had a productive cough in the morning, and if the exposure continued on a daily basis, even the cough eventually stopped or became mild. I think this is the “acute intermittent non-progressive” version of the allergy, as they describe it in this article. I must say that these happened when I did not use any kind of respiratory mask. After the first fever day was gone, I could even clean the loft myself (no mask) without having any problems, although I am sure this wasn’t really smart.

I’ve been PFL free since 2011 with the new pigeon loft, protection and prevention methods described below.

Dust Free Pigeon Loft Project

I built a new loft with wire mesh floor trying to minimise the dust. The loft still collects some dust in the nest boxes but they can also be made in such a way that dust falls off from the nest box.

pigeon loft wire mesh floor idea

There is also some dust on the ground under the loft that the pigeons move around when they flap their wings but most of the dust is taken away by the wind (3 of 4 sides under the loft are open with wire mesh and the wind blows daily from left to right). The loft also has wire mesh on the front… and a few windows on the back for the sun and air circulation which I close during the night.

under the pigeon loft

The project is not perfect and dust still collects if I don’t wash the dust and pigeon poop from under the loft for a long time and during the moulting season, especially because I make the mistake of having too many pigeons. If you think your loft is 100% dust free, just use the sunset light or a lantern in the dark to check it.

Below is a video of the dust getting out of the loft with the warm air in the evening during the moulting season. Very little wing flapping – the pigeons were fed and sleeping.

Please share your loft project with us if you have a dust free loft.

Pigeon Lung Mask

pigeon lung mask

The pigeon bloom, which is the main source of inhaled pigeon protein that triggers inflammation in some people, is an extremely small dust particle (<5 microns). The mask must filter out particles down to 5 microns, the size of pigeon dust from bloom, feather particles and droppings.

Even with a loft built to minimise pigeon dust, I still use a mask inside the loft – just for safety. I used the common masks in the past but they are far from perfect. You have to be serious about your health. Now I use a positive pressure respirator and I am totally confident even when cleaning the nest boxes and a pigeon on a nest kicks me with the wing sending up in the air a lovely white dusty cloud.

The great thing about this device is that it filters the air and also covers your hair (the hair would collect a lot of dust). Of course I also wear special loft and gardening clothes. The filtered cool air from the mask is excellent in summer, not so great in winter… when I get a runny nose from it and can’t touch the nose! But I rarely enter the loft in winter.

The mask filters are replaceable and you can recharge the batteries when required – not too often for me because I rarely enter the loft: just for cleaning, for banding youngsters or for catching the pigeons for a race or vaccinations. I even have small wire mesh doors on the loft front so I can feed the pigeons and give them water from outside. Oh, and I also open the loft for the birds to fly from outside.

During the breeding season I have to enter the loft more to check the youngsters and note the eggs hatching dates or replace them with plastic eggs. I developed a skill to detect when the female laid the first egg by noticing her body and the behaviour of the male who stops chasing her – and I can do that from outside the loft. I also developed a skill to hold my breath when I need to do something quickly inside the loft to avoid using the mask.

Additional Protection Devices

Wearable personal air purifiers: not sure about the efficacy of these devices but read about some fanciers using them so I decided to list them here. They are ultra light, mini and wearable ionic air purifiers.

Air filtration systems installed in the loft: these are more advanced (and more expensive) options – some of them can filter 98-99% of all particles, five microns in size and 85% of particles one micron in size.

Pigeon Fanciers Lung Treatment

Doctors will find the right personalised medical treatment for your pigeon lung problem.

By the way, Farmer’s lung is a disease caused by an allergy to the mold in crops, dust from hay, corn, grass for animal feed, grain, etc. As pigeon fanciers we also get in contact with mold from pigeon poop in high humidity weather, cereals dust, etc. Just another factor to think about.

Below are some useful bits of info about diet and lifestyle that could influence the pigeon lung disease.

Fat in the Diet

This is a very interesting thing I remember I saw online somewhere. Jim Jenner was saying that a fancier told him that when he had a big change in his diet, starting a “no fat” diet, his allergies got very bad and he had to give up his birds. It seems like saturated fat is a critical part of the body function, especially for the surface of the lungs. He went back to a more normal diet, whole milk, butter, etc. and was able to keep pigeons again. Research book: “Eat Fat Lose Fat”.

Vitamin D and the Immune System

Years ago when I had pigeon lung I was deficient in vitamin D (and most of the people are). The human body generates vitamin D after the skin is exposed to the sun. You are deficient especially in wintertime because the sun exposure is low and usually the winter sun exposure doesn’t generate vitamin D anyway. My symptoms used to come back in late autumn and to stay around until next summer. Coincidence? I’ve been supplementing vitamin D in the diet and also get some sun exposure in summer.

Vitamin D modulates the immune system and pigeon lung is a hypersensitivity pneumonitis – that is, the immune system overreacts to harmless matter (pigeon dust in our case).

By the way, pigeons need vitamin D too.

How does the pigeon fanciers lung allergy affect you? How did you get rid of it? Please share your story, thoughts and tips in the comments below.

13 thoughts on “Pigeon Fanciers Lung Disease”

  1. I have kept pigeons for about 4 years knowing that I have pigeon lung. I am 37. After basketing at the club is the only time I have attacks now becasue I always wear a Soudstrum mask when near pigeons. I stay out of the club house as much as possible arriving at the later part of the evening and never handle the birds (which is hard because you always feel slack).

    I find that a good tip is to hold your breath when tossing pigeons or when your in a dusty situations eg at someone house. I get my lungs checked once a year (xray and on lung machine) and to date have had no problems although I always get them checked off season.

    I vaccum and sweep the walls once a month and have a large race section 4 x 4 m with all the walls and ceiling lined in sheeting except the front. I would only need to be in my loft with no mask for 10 mins and exactly 4 hours later I would be shivering like mad.

    Every morning I do cough up stuff but because my lung specialist says everything is alright I don’t worry. I found it hard to wear a mask at first but now I don’t think about it at all, its part of my routine and all my kids have followed suit.

      1. I’m so sorry for your loss, atleast he died doing something he loved and was passionate about. Did he ignore the dust? Did he get treatment? How long did he have pigeon lung for? Just wondering for my own sake I’m 18 and have been exposed half my life and I’ve never wore a mask I’m kind of getting a bit scared

  2. Hi There,

    Thanks for the useful information. I have had pigeons for 30 years – I am 40 now with a young family. I seem to have no symptoms, no cold sweats or such. I went for a chest x-ray around a month ago for an unrelated problem and the doctor noticed a cobweb-like effect in my lungs which was visible on the xrays. When I told him I keep pigeons, he sent me for a blood test which showed a very high sensitivity to pigeon protein.

    I was told to get rid of all my birds, which I really don’t want to do, but I don’t want to become chronically ill or anything either. I have started wearing a mask and protective clothing and I am going to try the mangosteen juice for the next 3 months… hopefully my situation will improve. Everyone that I talk to about PFL has had the fevers, but I never had that problem but I have never been away from my birds for more than a couple of days at a time…

    Has anyone else been diagnosed with the lung irritation like what I have?

  3. Thank you very much for this very informative article. I cannot add much so I feel that I must just state what worked for me. Firstly and a definate for me, Eat Fat Get Thin. Eating this way has changed all my allergies. I eat very few carbohydrates except natural ones. Also I fly widowhood so tend to have a mostly closed loft. All I do is wear a cheap paper type mask but I do wear a loft coat. This loft coat never comes in the house unless it is to be washed.

  4. I’m 34, have pigeons 2 years, never heard of pigeon lung before i started them.Within 6 months couldn’t carry wanes to bed, out off breath and weak as water. Got blood sent away to Scotland to woman called Iona Donnelly, got results, 74% bloom, started to wear mask and hat, symptoms seemed to be clearing so got another test done still 84% bloom, was told that the lungs had got used to the dust.

    Is this a recent problem because I kept pigeons before when i was 14 to about 18, don’t mind having any problems. Love keeping the birds but don’t want to take a chance on my health. What should I do?

    1. I’m so weak right now and head ache too think it’s because of pigeons, I’m 18 but kept pigeons since I was 10. I’m so so weak and my nose is bunged up. If u have pigeon lung does it eventually cure and go away without pigeons?

  5. Hi,

    My name is Gary and I think i have pigeon lung. It all started about 5 years ago when I got diagnosed with asthma. I am now 18 and have been in pigeons since I was 12. I have realised it wasn’t asthma and it was pigeon lung, it would happen after I had been in the lofts and would cough, sweat, shake all the symptoms.

    I landed in hospital when I was 14 when me red blood cells were popping in my stomach n my red cell blood count was low n could hardly walk without being tired or blacking out. I got better after 5weeks in hospital and they didn’t diagnose me to pigeon lung but I’ve red that pigeon lung produces more white cells white takes over your red ones.

    So I put it down to that but now I wear a mask and change of clothes which helps, it does get worse in the winter but aye just try n stay out of the lofts more often. I refuse to go to doctors when I’m ill becuase I do not want to give then up.

  6. I had a blood test in 1986 at the Blackpool Show in England. Result was a mild sensitivity to Pigeon Lung. My symptoms were much the same as others tight chest sweats out of breath etc. I emigrated to Australia in 1988. My next contact with Pigeons were in 1993 on a holiday back to the UK. I visited some mates lofts, as you do. The tight chest etc returned, the symptoms must be able to lie dormant until your next contact. I have read your site for the first time today, very informative of this problem. Hope my comments are of help to someone.

  7. Hey, I found a very interesting article here:
    newcbl.homestead.com/Breeders-Lung.html

    Thank you John for sharing!!!

    ———————————–

    BREEDERS LUNG My name is John McDonald , I am 69 years old. I have had Racing Pigeons 365 days a year for most of my life.

    Today I would like to share with you ONE mans experience with Breeders Lung. For clarification past articles have referred to this as “ Pigeon Breeders Disease “ and “ Pigeon Fanciers Lung Disease “ but what ever you call it – they all refer to the same ailment. There is one exception, This does not refer to “ Histo Plasmosis ” which is completely different.

    In order for you to be able to relate to this , I will describe the onset of the problem, and give you a brief synopsis of the time frame.

    I started with the pigeons in 1949 at age 9 and except for 3 years in the Navy, I had the pigeons continuously til 1993.

    By 1980 I had the pigeons for nearly 30 years with out any symptoms. 1980 was also the year I started to follow the Government Recommendations about fat in the diet. As I look back – it was not long after I started following the Government Recommended diet that I noticed a shortness of breath.

    By the mid 80’s , In less than 5 years after I started to follow the Government Recommended diet. I was told I had Exercise Induced Asthma ( E.I.A. )

    By 1990 , just 10 years after I started to follow the Government Recommended diet , I had all the symptoms of acute breeders lung.

    By 1993 I sold all my pigeons. In 2001 I started again with the pigeons. But by 2003 the symptoms come back and I had to get rid of all the pigeons again.

    This time frame is important because:
    It took 44 years to manifest itself , 10 years later it still hadn’t corrected itself. Then I run across a book that would change my life. The book was published in January 2005. I got a copy in May 2005. Within 1 year after reading the book and changing my diet all symptoms were gone.

    By fall of 2006 I felt so much better I decided to get the pigeons again. As I write this it is fall 2009, I have had pigeons for 3 years with NO symptoms of Breeder Lung or Exercise Induced Asthma.

    Now that I have identified the problem let’s talk about what I suspected was the cause.

    Sense the early 80’s Government Recommendations, Medical Doctrine, and so called health experts have stressed low – fat and non fat foods. Particularly saturated fats. American Heart Association says “ choose a diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol.”

    The food Pyramid developed by US Dept. Of Agriculture and US Dept. Of Health & Human Service specified foods to be low – fat or fat free. The National Heart & Lung Institute, offers recipes with reduced fat content.

    For nearly 25 years I had gradually cut out all of the fats in my diet , I thought I was doing the right thing by following these Government Recommendations.

    Imagine my surprise when I came across a new book titled “ Eat Fat Lose Fat ”.

    In my opinion , the cause of my problems were a lack of saturated fats in my diet.

    So, what is the solution?

    Some people have said there is NO connection between Breeders Lung and Exercise Induced Asthma. I think the common denominator are faulty lungs. When irritants such as pigeon dust or bloom , hot or cold air enters lungs that have been impaired or compromised by faulty diet – the lungs are unable to do their job properly and therefore the symptoms we experience appear , no matter if it be Breeders Lung or Exercise Induced Asthma.

    I quote from the book . “ The lungs CAN NOT work without adequate saturated fats in the diet. The lungs secrete a fluid called surfactant ( ser fak’ tant) which enables them to function properly. This fluid is made of two fatty acids, both of which are saturated. Therefore the fluid that enables the lungs to work are normally 100% saturated. In fact, changes in fat consumption patterns over the past 30 years explains the rising incidents of all types of lung disease, including asthma and lung cancer .”

    To my mind, it was clear , the answer to the question was obvious. The solution is to include more of the GOOD saturated fats in your diet.

    In closing I would say this connection between a lack of saturated fats in the diet and many disorders of the lung are only the first step. I invite those of you that are much more educated & skilled than I to do the testing that is necessary to prove or disprove this thesis.

    My only advice is to get the book and read it . The first half of the book explains how and why we got these Government Recommendations , the second half is full of recipes to help make the transition to a healthy diet.

    My reason for writing this is that someone who reads it might experience the same benefits that I have had. For those of you with NO symptoms use this knowledge as a preventative measure for what the future may hold.

    Yours In The Sport,
    John

  8. Another article from here:
    http://www.elimarpigeons.com/Article5/Parkinson19610709.htm

    ———————————

    This has been a problem to many fanciers with some using it as the reason to leave the sport and have a big clearance sale. Much of this has been written before in one way or another but I am going to go through it in full after receiving calls about pigeon lung recently. When I first started racing pigeons at the end of the 60s I did not have much of a problem although I did used to have coughing spells when I had been cleaning out. In those days every nook and cranny was cleaned out with the brush and shovel being in near constant use. Through the 70s I was not too bad but as that decade drew to a close I knew that I had a problem when I was around the pigeons. At the start of the next decade I went to see my doctor and explained everything to him and included in that conversation I told him that I had racing pigeons. Now we all know that when you tell a doctor that the first reaction is that “You will have to get rid of them” As soon as some fanciers hear that the pigeons are gone but not me I, as they say “Eat, sleep and Drink pigeons” As with anything to do with the breathing apparatus of the human body the doctor’s jump on the easiest solution and as pointed out in my case get rid of them. The next step from the doctor was three inhalers four times each day and wanting to keep the pigeons and stay with pigeon racing I took them up and started using them religiously. My breathing and lung capacity improved by the end of the first day and so I thought, “Great I am sorted and can carry on with the pigeons as normal” The use of inhalers carried on through the 80’s and 90’s and I started to use a mask for the first time. Them as the new millennium begun I started to cut down on the use of the inhalers by taking them three times each day instead of four. I also made an appointment with my doctor to discuss the use of medication for my breathing. During this appointment he suggested that I started to wear a cap while with the pigeons because he pointed out that the dust would settle on my head and go through my scalp into my system. So when I went into the pigeons I would wear a mask, hat and loft coat probably from the pigeons were looking and think, “What’s that” they probably did without the gear but that’s another matter. So after that conversation this decade has seen me look at what I do in another light because leaving the sport is the last thing on my mind. I was now getting into my 50s and looking at the sport in a different light, I was now looking at what I could do to help both the pigeons and myself. I was never in favour of using the inhalers and as much as I was appeared as if I was just keeping myself alive. I then had a conversation with Sir Richard from Dazer about what other steps I could take to help the pigeons and myself. I also include the pigeons because in today’s ways of keeping them mostly closed up the dust may also affect them. So I introduced the Yakuso/Airogard around my neck, which I use when the pigeons are in the car and I found it worked. So my next conversation with Sir Richard was about the lofts and after that I introduced the ionisers into each section and what a difference they have made. So with all these changes I started to wean myself of the inhalers against my doctor’s advice. So as the first decade of the new century draws to a close I have discarded all the inhalers for nearly 12 months now. The precautions in the lofts are all in place, the Yakuso/Airogard goes with my in the car and in general my breathing is not too bad. The only real downfall’s are when we are marking bird sat the club I do not take the Yakuso/Airogard with me and I should. I do get a bit wheezy from time to time especially in the hot weather but in general I am much improved on how I was before I introduced what I call my bodyguards. Those bodyguards are my hat/loft coat/mask/Yakuso/Airogard compared with three different inhalers four times each day. How I will go on through the next decade if I am still here is another matter but as we get older our bodies do not have the same protection so I may just to help myself go back on the inhalers. However having gone through the chest problems that dust can bring I would at keeping pigeons in a different light and protect myself from day one. So if you are young and in pigeon racing protect yourself from the offset with the hat/loft coat/mask/Yakuso/Airogard. Then you may stay in pigeons longer and not suffer with your health because at the end of the day such health problems can be avoided and you may be able to race pigeons right up to the end. Always remembers prevention is better than cure and pigeon dust or any dust will not affect everyone. Pigeon racing is a great hobby to have so protect yourself and your pigeons the best way you can and you will enjoy them more.

  9. HI I HAVE HAD PIGEON LUNG ATTACKS TWICE AND BOTH TIMES I HAVE ENDED UP IN HOSPITAL WITH NUMONIA I WAS PUT ON STERIODS 8 A DAY FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS TO STOP THE COUGHING I COULD NOT WALK UP THE STAIRS TO GO TO BED I HAD TO SLEEP ON THE SETTE AS I HAD NO STRENGTH AND WAS OUT OF BREATH IN LOST A LOT OF WEIGHT AND WQS VERY ILL REGARDS REG O.

  10. My name is Paul, I raced in South Coast Federation NSW Australia, I have had Pigeons since I was a Boy & I am now 71 yrs old. 2 years ago I was told I had Pigeon Lung., as my Lung specialist said ” Your in trouble, BIG BIG trouble” I had to give up my birds 2 years ago, they were gone in 2 weeks it broke my heart as I’m now retired & had plenty time for my birds.
    I wore a mask but it got me BAD. I implore everyone to wear a mask also your Juniors.
    I have trouble walking, up stairs & hills, & find it hard to do menial tasks, I can’t even mow or do the edges of my lawn, it plays havoc with my mind.

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