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:
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the chest
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.
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.
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
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.