Feather Duvet Lung: Down comforters making some people sick

As you curl up under your covers, a warning that down comforters and down pillows might be making you sick.

It is something that many of us have never thought about, but a doctor at Mayo Clinic in Arizona sees it quite often.

A fluffy pillow can seem like a relaxing way to rest your head.

But for Julie Wood, her bedding could have been deadly.

"I couldn't walk to my kitchen without almost dying for air," Wood said. "I couldn't breathe. It was the scariest feeling."

The symptoms hit Wood hard during COVID.

"Everybody was like you could have long COVID, Bronchitis, Pneumonia, take an antibiotic and you’ll get better," Wood said. "It never got better."

Desperate for help, she went to the Emergency Room at Mayo Clinic and met pulmonologist Dr. Ana Zamora.

"When Julie had the problem, it was COVID time, so everybody thought it’s COVID," Dr. Zamora said. "And of course, it wasn't."

"Dr. Zamora started asking me every question about my life," Wood said. "What kind of pillows do you have? Where do you work? Where have you been the past few months? Just every random question out there."

Wood not only used down bedding, but she wore a down jacket in the Winter.

"A down pillow or down jacket, starts to wear off over time," Dr. Zamora said. "The feathers start leaking and this is seriously when we are in trouble because we're breathing in all of the protein that is around the feather."

Dr. Zamora says for some people with a weakened immune system, the repetitive exposure can lead to Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, or what some call Feather Duvet Lung (FDL).

"Yes! That can kill you!" Dr. Zamora said.

Waiting too long can result in permanent lung damage and the need for a transplant.

Dr. Zamora has also seen the lung disease in patients who have a pet bird.

In January 2022, Wood’s lungs looked cloudy, or cotton like with a CT scan. That is the inflammation, Dr. Zamora says.

With early intervention, treatment, and getting rid of every feather in her life, four months later she feels 100 percent. Her CT scan shows her lungs are healthy.

"I was thanking God," Wood said. "She saved my life. Because not being able to breathe is the scariest thing ever."

Not everyone who sleeps with a down pillow or comforter will get this, but Dr. Zamora does recommend using a down alternative.