Feather allergies are more often suspected than actually proven. People develop allergy symptoms and conclude they are allergic to the feather in their pillows or comforters and take steps to cover or remove these bedding items. When the symptoms go away, people assume that their conclusion was correct: They were allergic to feathers and distancing themselves from the feathers resolved the problem. However, often a suspected feather allergy is actually an allergy to dust mites, whose proliferation is encouraged on and around feathers. (Dust mite allergy is actually the most common allergy, while feather allergy is not very common.)
The most common kind of allergic reaction to feathers that you might experience is hay fever, known in the medical community as allergic rhinitis. Symptoms of hay fever include puffy, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, post-nasal drip, sinus pressure, facial pain, allergic shiners (swollen, blue skin under the eyes), itchy mouth, nose or throat and decreased sense of taste or smell. If you have a severe allergy you may experience trouble breathing, reduced lung capacity or even weight loss. If the feathers in your bedding are to blame, you may begin to lose sleep and find yourself fatigued, less productive or even depressed. In extreme cases, a feather allergy can cause anaphylaxis, which is life threatening.
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, you should get tested by an allergist to find out whether or not your symptoms are due to bird feathers. Once you know what is causing your allergy, your doctor can tell you what steps you should take and will prescribe you medication if necessary.
Ironically, synthetic bedding is actually more susceptible to dust mites than feathers are. So if you have a feather allergy, you should get rid of your down bedding while if you have a dust mite allergy, trading in your bedding could make your symptoms worse. Either way, it's a good idea to encase your pillows, duvets and mattresses with impermeable covers to prevent contact with allergens.
Originally Published: Apr 12, 2011