Vogelhalter Lung – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Bird holder lung

Unlike pneumoconiosis in miners, bird-keeper ‘s lung is still largely unknown as a disease. It owes its name to the fact that people who come into regular contact with birds often suffer from it.

What is a bird holder lunge?

Vogelhalterlung is sometimes also referred to as pigeon fancier ‘s disease or bird fancier ‘s lung In medical jargon it is called exogenous allergic alveolitis or is one of several forms of this. In bird cage lungs, the alveoli, i.e. the air sacs in the lungs, are inflamed as a result of an allergic reaction.

The allergic reaction is generally caused by inhaling fine dust, such as chemical substances or organic dust. In the specific case of the bird’s lung, however, the allergic reaction and associated inflammation is caused by the inhalation of animal proteins found in the dust raised by bird droppings and feathers.

This distinguishes it from similar diseases such as chemical worker’s lung, farmer’s lung or humidifier’s lung, which are also categorized as exogenous allergic alveolitis but have different causes. A bird owner’s lung can be either acute or insidious and sometimes chronic.


The actual cause of a bird’s lung is an immune reaction in the lungs. This is caused by inhaling certain allergens found in dust from bird droppings and feathers. If this dust is then inhaled, it gets into the lungs and with it certain animal proteins. These trigger a so-called type III immune complex reaction there, which in turn leads to an inflammatory reaction in the lung tissue.The type III immune complex reaction falsely activates the so-called complement system, which is part of the human immune system and serves to eliminate cellular antigens such as bacteria. In this way, the organism is informed that there is a danger to the lungs and reacts by inflaming the tissue, which in turn causes further symptoms.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

In the acute form of bird keeper’s lungs, the first symptoms usually appear 4 to 8 hours after initial contact with the allergens. The symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia and range from a cough , sometimes accompanied by sputum , to fever and difficulty breathing , to an increased heart rate. The symptoms usually subside within a few days after the end of the contact.

The insidiously occurring chronic form of bird owner’s lungs, on the other hand, is noticeable through more flu-like symptoms . In addition to body aches and fatigue , this can lead to weight loss and a general feeling of weakness and exhaustion . In contrast to the acute illness, the symptoms then appear in a weakened form and in phases.

Prolonged contact with the allergen can lead to fibrosis, i.e. a permanent change in the lung tissue, which in turn can result in chronic coughing, shortness of breath even under normal stress and heart problems .

Diagnosis & disease progression

The diagnosis of a bird’s lung is usually made by excluding other possible clinical pictures and various examinations. Just the information that the person concerned has frequent contact with birds usually puts the treating doctor on the right track. Listening to the lungs, x-raying the thorax and detecting specific antibodies against the inhaled animal protein in the body usually make the diagnosis unambiguous.


A bird owner’s lung leads to serious problems and must always be treated. In many cases, however, those affected suffer from a significantly reduced and restricted life expectancy. The symptoms can vary and depend on the severity of the disease.

However, they are very similar to the symptoms of pneumonia, so that patients suffer from coughing or sputum production. Fever or severe breathing difficulties also occur due to the bird owner’s lungs and have a very negative effect on the everyday life of those affected. As a rule, the symptoms are further aggravated by contact with the allergen.

If contact is avoided, the symptoms usually disappear after a few days. If the bird’s lung is not treated, it can lead to significant breathing problems even under normal stress. The patient becomes very tired and exhausted.

Since a direct and causal treatment of the bird owner’s lung is not possible, only the individual symptoms can be treated. Usually there are no special complications. However, a completely positive course of the disease is not achieved.

When should you go to the doctor?

A visit to a doctor is always necessary in the case of bird cage lungs. The earlier the doctor is consulted, the better the further course of this disease is usually. If treatment is not given, the worst case scenario can be the death of the person concerned. A doctor should be contacted for this disease if the person affected very often suffers from inflammation of the lungs.

In most cases, there is also very often a strong cough and permanent breathing difficulties. The everyday life and the resilience of the patient is also considerably restricted by the Vogelhalterlung. Persistent fatigue is not uncommon and patients suffer from the symptoms of the flu and, in addition, weight loss. If these symptoms appear for no particular reason and do not go away on their own, you must see a doctor.

As a rule, Vogelhalterlung can be recognized by a general practitioner or an otolaryngologist . However, further treatment depends heavily on the severity of the symptoms, so that no general prediction can be made about success. In many cases, however, the patient’s life expectancy is reduced by this disease.

Treatment & Therapy

The most important thing in the treatment of a bird’s lung is the immediate and permanent avoidance of contact with the allergen, i.e. the dust from the droppings and feathers of birds. People who are professionally involved in keeping birds may then have to give up or change their profession.

Without avoiding contact with the allergen, successful treatment is almost impossible. In the case of a chronic course, administration of glucocorticoids is the drug of choice. These steroid hormones, which are produced in the adrenal cortex, inhibit the inflammatory reactions in the lungs and thus also the symptoms that occur.

Severe forms of chronic bird husbandry lung disease can be treated with immunosuppressants . These inhibit the normal function of the immune system and can thus also prevent the type III immune complex reaction responsible for the bird’s lung and its inflammatory reactions. An irreparable change in the lung tissue that is already in the making can also be slowed down in its development.


The development of a bird cage lung can only be prevented insofar as contact with birds is avoided entirely. However, since one cannot know with certainty that the disease will break out before the first contact with birds or before the first symptoms appear, such a safety measure is greatly exaggerated. Another possible prevention tactic would be to avoid inhaling the bird dust, but this could prove extremely difficult in practice.

Bird keeper lung is common in people who work with birds. It is a notifiable occupational disease because of its potentially serious health consequences. But hobby breeders can also contract it and should take the first symptoms seriously, as long-term contact can have serious consequences for the lungs and heart.


This disease was a challenge to the immune system, particularly when the patient had extensive contact with birds and/or the diagnosis was made late. Even if the animals have been handed over and the bed linen has been replaced, it is possible that traces of the allergens can still be found in the household. For this reason, particular attention should be paid to hygiene and cleanliness in the area surrounding the affected person, at least during the first year of follow-up care.

If possible, professional cleaning is recommended. In order to support the immune system and to prevent chronic lung damage, it helps patients if they ensure a healthy lifestyle and do not smoke, but instead spend a lot of time in nature and in the fresh air. We also recommend abstaining from alcohol and sporting activities, as far as your general physical condition allows.

Of course, a healthy lifestyle also includes a diet rich in vitamins, sufficient sleep and as little stress as possible. Draining and detoxifying measures are also helpful in the follow-up care of a bird owner’s lung. Naturopathic doctors or naturopaths can recommend appropriate remedies.

Even sauna sessions, steam baths or sweaty work or sports detoxify the organism. Water-rich fruits and vegetables also have a detoxifying effect. Such drainage processes should be supported by the patient by drinking one and a half to two liters of water daily.

You can do that yourself

If a bird owner’s lung has been diagnosed, contact with the allergen must be avoided completely. Bird owners and breeders may have to give up their animals to prevent the disease from progressing. In addition, feather beds and feather pillows should be removed from the apartment. Also, to prevent mold, potted plants, aquariums, and food that are susceptible to mold must be disposed of.

The bird breeder’s lung is notifiable. Affected persons quickly contact the responsible authority and persons who may have also come into contact with the animals. The allergy can be treated well if the patient follows the above measures and informs the doctor about unusual symptoms. Typical symptoms are breathing difficulties and skin changes that require medical treatment. Suitable self-help measures are sport and lots of exercise in the fresh air.

After the diagnosis, patients should take it easy until the symptoms have subsided. This can take a few weeks to months. If cardiovascular problems occur in connection with the disease, the responsible internist or allergist must be consulted. The administration of glucocorticoids can be supported by regular fluid intake and keeping a medication diary in which any side effects and interactions are noted.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.