Do pigeons nest in your apartment? Beware, bird poop can permanently damage your lungs

If you are living in an apartment filled with pigeons, their droppings can cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs and even give way to permanent damage.
bird poop can permanently damage your lungs
bird poop can permanently damage your lungs

Hyderabad: If you have been suffering from a cough, especially a dry cough for several weeks, and despite taking doctor-prescribed antibiotics the cough persists, birds in your locality might be making you sick.

If you are living in an apartment filled with pigeons, their droppings can cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs and even give way to permanent damage.

Harmful coexistence

Humans have been coexisting with birds such as pigeons for centuries. Especially in cities like Hyderabad, pigeons are plenty, residing in apartments and shelters in public places. Many parks, public places and streets see thousands of pigeons flocking, especially because people feed the birds as a daily ritual.

However, medical experts point out the dangers of prolonged exposure to pigeon-infested or any bird-infested environment because the bird droppings have been found to contain various types of harmful fungi, bacteria, parasites and uric acid. As the droppings dry up, they get airborne as dust, enter the human body while inhaling, reach the lungs and can cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which can be fatal under certain conditions.

Pigeon Breeder Disease or hypersensitivity pneumonitis

While many are aware that fur from pet dogs and cats and feathers from pet birds cause allergies and respiratory irritation, droppings of any birds are even more dangerous and can irreversibly damage the lungs.

“Exposure over a long period to the droppings of birds by living in an area infested with pigeons or by rearing them in the house or by frequent visits to feed pigeons, a person may run the risk of getting ‘Pigeon Breeder Disease,” said Dr Gopi Krishna Yedlapati, senior interventional pulmonologist at Yashoda Hospital.

“Initially, patients are found suffering from dry, irritating coughs, which refuse to get cured despite medication. This advances to fibrosis or scarring of the lungs, characterised by severe coughing, phlegm, and breathlessness. Ultimately, the lungs get damaged to an extent where lung transplantation is the only way out, which is a very complicated and costly process,” he said.

“However, it is not just bird droppings but even continuous exposure to chemicals, especially sulphur-related compounds from the dye industry and rubber factories etc. can affect the lungs,” added the pulmonologist.

Immediate diagnosis and treatment must

In the initial stages of persistent dry cough, antibiotics and bronchodilators are used but if the cough persists for more than two to three weeks and doesn’t get relieved with antibiotics, then one must visit a pulmonologist for further tests. Without proper treatment, patients develop chronic coughs and become dependent on external oxygen supply and nebulisers, which don’t make the condition better and eventually, the lungs fail, requiring a transplant, which may or may not be successful.

Therefore, advanced tests are recommended such as a high-resolution CT scan, Lung Function Test or Blood Test for Serum IG (E), Hypersensitivity pneumonitis panel/antigen test etc. Through these tests, the changes in the lungs and hypersensitivity pneumonitis can be detected, if present. If required, steroids can be administered to patients instead of antibiotics, say doctors.

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