Can pigeons cause breathing problems?

Quick Answer

Pigeons can potentially cause breathing problems for some people due to allergies or lung diseases like hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Their droppings contain allergens that can trigger asthma or allergic rhinitis. Pigeon droppings can also contain fungal spores that may lead to hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible individuals. Proper cleaning and avoidance of heavy exposure are keys to preventing respiratory issues.

Can pigeon droppings or feathers trigger breathing problems?

Yes, pigeon droppings and feathers can trigger breathing problems in some people. Pigeon droppings contain proteins that can act as allergens and provoke reactions in individuals with allergies or asthma. The droppings also contain fungal spores that may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis in vulnerable populations. Pigeon feathers and skin flakes can also provoke allergic reactions in sensitive persons.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to harmless foreign proteins called allergens. In sensitized individuals, inhaling allergens like those contained in pigeon droppings can trigger immune responses resulting in asthma exacerbations or allergic rhinitis.

Asthma involves inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Allergic rhinitis consists of runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, and sinus pressure triggered by allergies.

For persons with pigeon dropping allergy, exposure can exacerbate these conditions and make breathing more difficult. Feathers and skin flakes may also provoke reactions.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also called extrinsic allergic alveolitis, is an immune condition caused by repeated inhalation of certain dusts or chemicals. It is sometimes called “bird fancier’s lung” when caused by avian proteins.

In hypersensitivity pneumonitis, the lungs become inflamed due to immune reactions against inhaled particles considered foreign by the body. Pigeon droppings contain fungal spores and avian proteins that can cause this condition in vulnerable individuals.

Symptoms include cough, difficulty breathing, and weight loss. Repeated exposure can result in permanent lung damage if left untreated.

What components of pigeon droppings cause issues?

Pigeon droppings contain a mix of microbes, allergens, and fungal spores that can trigger breathing issues when inhaled. Key problematic components include:


– Immunoglobulin A (IgA) – a protein that is a known bird allergen.
– Bird serum proteins – other allergenic proteins from pigeon blood.

Fungal spores

– Cryptococcus neoformans – a yeast found in high levels in pigeon droppings that can lead to lung inflammation.
– Aspergillus – a mold that releases spores that may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis.


– Lipopolysaccharides – components of gram-negative bacteria cell walls that can cause respiratory irritation.


– Pigeon droppings release ammonia as they break down. High levels of ammonia fumes can cause coughing and breathing issues.

So in summary, pigeon droppings contain a complex mix of allergens, fungi, bacteria, and chemicals that can affect breathing, especially in susceptible persons.

What diseases are associated with pigeon droppings?

Here are some key diseases and conditions associated with pigeon droppings that can lead to breathing issues:


Pigeon allergens can trigger asthma flare-ups and worsen symptoms in sensitized individuals. Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath may occur after exposure.

Allergic rhinitis

Inhaled pigeon allergens may cause runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion and sinus pressure in people with allergies. This can make breathing through the nose difficult.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis

Repeated exposure to pigeon droppings may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, where the lungs become inflamed and scarred. This can lead to breathing problems. Also called bird fancier’s lung.


Psittacosis is a bacterial lung infection transmitted from birds that causes fever, chills, and pneumonia with cough. Pigeons can spread it to humans.


The fungus Cryptococcus neoformans found in pigeon droppings can sometimes cause lung infections leading to cough and shortness of breath. More common in immunocompromised hosts.


Histoplasma fungal spores from bird and bat droppings can lead to pneumonia, cough, and breathing difficulty in rare cases.

So in summary, common respiratory conditions linked to pigeon droppings include allergic reactions, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, lung infections, and asthma exacerbations. Proper treatment of any underlying conditions is important.

What types of people are most vulnerable?

Certain populations are at increased risk of developing breathing problems related to pigeon droppings exposure:

People with asthma or allergies

Individuals with asthma, allergic rhinitis, or known bird allergies are at high risk of allergic reactions and asthma attacks when exposed to pigeon allergens.

People with chronic lung diseases

Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or other chronic lung conditions are more susceptible to breathing issues when inhaling dusts and fungi.

Immunocompromised individuals

People with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, transplants, or immunosuppressants are more vulnerable to lung infections like cryptococcosis.

The elderly

Aging airways and reduced ability to cough up dusts can put older adults at increased risk for non-allergic lung irritation and infections.


Smoking damages airways and reduces mucociliary clearance of inhaled allergens and fungi, putting smokers at higher risk for associated breathing problems.

Pigeon breeders/handlers

People who directly work with pigeons have high exposure and elevated risk of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, lung infections, and allergies due to repeated contact.

So those with underlying lung conditions, weaker immunity, and greater exposure levels are most prone to having respiratory issues from pigeons.

What are the most common symptoms?

Some common signs and symptoms associated with breathing issues caused by pigeon droppings include:

– Wheezing and coughing, sometimes with thick mucus production
– Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t get enough air
– Tightness or pain in the chest
– Nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, sinus pressure
– Coughing up blood in severe cases
– Fatigue and weakness
– Unexplained weight loss in chronic cases

Symptoms may start soon after exposure to bird droppings or take weeks or longer to develop, depending on the underlying condition causing them. Seeking prompt medical treatment for evaluation of unexplained breathing symptoms is advised.

How are these breathing problems diagnosed?

Doctors use a combination of methods to diagnose breathing issues related to pigeon droppings exposure. Common diagnostic approaches include:

Medical history

Information about exposure to birds and any underlying lung conditions can help identify the cause of symptoms.

Physical exam

Listening to the lungs for abnormalities and assessing oxygen levels provides clues. Finding enlarged lymph nodes, rashes or fever indicates hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Allergy testing

Skin prick tests or blood tests can identify allergy to pigeon proteins and help diagnose allergic asthma.

Pulmonary function tests

Spirometry and other PFTs assess lung capacity and obstruction which can confirm asthma or other lung diseases.


Chest x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs can detect lung damage, masses and inflammation characteristic of pneumonia, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, etc.

Lung biopsies

Removing lung tissue samples helps pathologists identify granulomas, fibrosis, and microbiology seen in hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Combining the above testing modalities allows physicians to make an accurate diagnosis and initiate the appropriate treatment.

What’s the best way to prevent pigeon-related breathing problems?

The most effective ways to prevent breathing issues from pigeon droppings include:

Avoid high exposure areas

Limit time spent in enclosed spaces heavily contaminated with droppings, such as attics, barns or abandoned buildings. Wear protective masks if entering such areas is unavoidable.

Improve ventilation

Open windows, install exhaust fans, and improve airflow to reduce accumulation of droppings and spread of fungal spores indoors.

Clean droppings regularly

Promptly remove accumulated droppings using water and disinfectants while wearing protective gloves and a mask.

Use respirator mask

Wear an N95 mask when cleaning or working in areas with high levels of pigeon droppings to avoid inhaling allergens.

Seal off nesting spots

Block areas where pigeons roost or nest, such as eaves, attics, balconies, and roof openings, to reduce droppings.

Remove attractants

Eliminate food sources and stop feeding pigeons to discourage them from nesting on the property.

Avoiding heavy exposure, improving ventilation, proper clean up, and using protective equipment are the best ways to limit risks.

When should someone seek medical treatment?

You should seek prompt medical care if you experience any of the following:

– Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath at rest or with exertion
– Wheezing, chest tightness, or coughing that persists or worsens
– Coughing up blood or bloody mucus
– Fever, chills, and fatigue
– Significant unexplained weight loss
– Rashes, swollen lymph nodes, or leg swelling
– Sinus pressure, runny nose and sneezing that won’t resolve

Prompt evaluation is recommended if symptoms are impacting quality of life or your ability to work. Early treatment can help prevent complications and permanent lung damage.

Seeking emergency care is advised if breathing difficulty comes on suddenly and severely, or you experience a bluish discoloration of the lips or fingers indicating low oxygen levels. These could be signs of a serious allergic reaction, asthma attack, or lung infection requiring immediate treatment.


In summary, pigeon droppings have the potential to cause breathing problems due to the allergens, fungi, and bacteria they contain. People with underlying lung conditions like asthma and COPD are at highest risk. However, even healthy individuals may develop issues with heavy exposure over time. Preventing exposure and prompt treatment of symptoms can reduce the likelihood of complications. Speaking to a healthcare provider is advised for accurate diagnosis and management if pigeon droppings are suspected to be causing new or worsening respiratory symptoms. Following preventive steps like improving ventilation, regular droppings cleanup, and avoiding high exposure areas is key to reducing risks.

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