Do we breathe with special difficulty in winter? It could be the duvet filling.

The quilt is an invention that comes from ancient in the history of Europe, since it it is believed that they were used wild goose feather fillers prior to the 1st century BC, but it was not until the early 19th century that they began to become popular among the upper classes of the continent.

In the 20th century, this type of thermal insulating cover definitely became popular throughout the world and millions of people already use it, although other insulating filler technologies such as synthetic fibers or wool have been developed instead of down.

Among the advantages of the quilt compared to the classic blanket, which it has banished, its insulating power, its manageability and hygiene stand out, since you only have to wash the cover, not the entire piece. Also, it accumulates less dust and mites inside, thus giving rise to fewer allergies and diseases.

Quilts and lung inflammation

In this way, it could be thought that duvets are a much safer product than blankets, especially as far as allergic and respiratory conditions are concerned.

However, this does not always have to be the case, since recent studies link the duvet, and by extension the pillows, when they are filled with feathers, with a problem of serious lung inflammation in sensitive people, an inflammatory disease known as “hypersensitivity pneumonitis”.

Apparently this inflammatory response is caused by the dust accumulated by the bird’s feathers, which in turn is made up of small fibers resulting from the decomposition of said feathers.

This is pointed out by a study performed by researchers at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelonaand published in 2013 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The study was carried out between 2004 and 2011 in 46 patients.

He himself included determination of antibodies, inhalation tests, cultures and environmental measurements in homes and workplaces. In one third of the cases, the development of hypersensitivity pneumonitis was attributed to exposure to feather duvets and pillows, as a reaction to the dust released by these feathers.

“We think that the feathers, despite the fact that the manufacturers say that they are treated, give off a dust that goes through the pores of the sheet of the cover and that every time the sleeping person moves, he inhales it. If you have a genetic predisposition to suffer from this disease, a tiny daily amount is enough to suffer an inflammatory reaction or fibrosis”, explained the main researcher of the study, pulmonologist Ferran Morell.

Increased risk of cystic fibrosis

The problem, in addition to the discomfort of this inflammation -not allergic-, is that pneumonitis can become chronic if the elements that cause it are not removed and end up leading to pulmonary cystic fibrosis.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that progressively affects the lungs, which harden and lose their elasticity, leading to reduced respiratory capacity.

In Spain affects about 10,000 people. It is a serious process, which in the most advanced cases may even require a lung transplant.

In fact, in 2019 the British Medical Journal wrote the story of an English man who developed an acute form of pneumonitis that made it difficult for him to breathe. An investigation of his life by doctors revealed that he had recently acquired a down comforter.

Withdrawal of the same and a therapy based on steroidal anti-inflammatories remitted the pneumonitis in a few weeks and the affected person was able to lead a normal life again.

Should feather duvets be banned?

According to the OCU, in the year of the publication of this study “an excessive alarm” was created. “Use feather duvets or pillows carries a risk, albeit very lowas it is not based on a linear cause/effect relationship: only a small percentage of people who use this type of bedding develop the disease,” the consumer association claimed.

For their part, in the study the researchers make it clear that it is not inadvisable for the general population the use of feather duvets, being only for people sensitive to this inflammatory disease.

The best strategy, if we see that we are breathing badly, is, as advised by the Scottish doctor Owen Dempsey in an article that The Guardian published about the case described by the British Medical Journal“get rid of the pillows and feather duvets.”

“I think there are many exposures out there that we are not aware of, and just because we are not aware of them they are ignored,” Dempsey continues in his statements to The Guardian, who believes that feathers may be behind many cases that end up being serious.

If, even after dispensing with the feather insulation, we experience the same problems a few weeks later, we should not hesitate to go to the pulmonologist for tests.

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