A HAMPSHIRE grandad has died after suffering from a pigeon allergy.

Peter Willoughby allowed a friend to keep pigeons at the bottom of his garden and spent more than 25 years cleaning bird mess off windscreens at Ford.

But the 72-year-old did not know that an allergy to the birds was slowly killing him.

It was not until years later that he found out that an allergy to the pigeons was scarring his lungs.

Daily Echo: Peter Willoughby with his great granddaughter Emily.

Winchester Coroner’s Court heard how the 72-year-old’s frequent contact with the birds both at home and at work over such a long period caused permanent damaged to his lungs – commonly known as pigeon fancier’s lung – which ultimately killed him.

The hearing was told that Peter had built a pigeon loft where his friend and business partner, pigeon fancier Gary Vear, could keep his birds at the back of the Totton newsagents which they owned from 1989.

When Peter and his wife Teresa left Test News in 2007, the pigeons moved with them to the bottom of their 100ft garden in Shepherd’s Hey Road and later to their bungalow at Calmore Gardens.

But while the birds lived in his garden, Peter rarely went near them, leaving their care to Gary.

So when doctors revealed his allergy to the birds were the reason for his deteriorating health, his family were completely shocked.

Speaking at the inquest, his daughter, Yvonne Gawn, said: “He built the lofts but they were empty at the time. Other than that he had no contact with them whatsoever. He literally just walked past them.

She added: “The hospital felt that because they knew there were pigeons on the home premises they said that must be how he had got it but he never had that much contact. He didn’t like them particularly.”

The inquest also heard a statement from Peter’s former Ford workmate Adam Dudkowiak, in which he described how glass was stored at a unit in Barton Park where there was a pigeon problem.

He said windscreens would arrive heavily-coated with pigeon droppings and Peter’s main job was to clean them.

The inquest was told how the dad-of-three’s health deteriorated in 2013 and in his final months he was unable to move around on his own as he struggled to breathe due to the scarring on his lungs caused by a reaction to microscopic particles of pigeon feathers and faeces in the air.

Last summer Peter was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, where he died on August 13, surrounded by family.

Giving a narrative verdict, senior coroner Grahame Short said: “For a number of years Mr Willoughby was working in an environment where he was exposed and in his home he was also exposed to feathers and excreta when he was close to the pigeon loft in his back garden.

“I think it was a combination of those two factors.”

He recorded his cause of death as end-stage lung disease and a form of pneumonia triggered by the allergy to pigeons and the reaction of the heart.

Speaking after the hearing, his family paid tribute to the grandfather-of-five and great-grandfather-of three who had married Teresa, his childhood sweetheart, 51 years ago.

Daily Echo:

Teresa, 73, said: “He suffered for a long time but everybody involved in his care was excellent. It was heart wrenching to see somebody so independent go downhill like that.

“It must have been hell for him but he never complained.”

“He wasn’t into pigeons. He didn’t mind watching them from a distance. If he did go anywhere near them he put a mask on.

She added: “Nothing will bring him back. We lived our lives around Peter. He was a clever person. He knew everything.”

Extrinsic allergic alveolitis – known as pigeon fancier’s lung

WHILE many people may not have heard of it, it’s relatively common among pigeon fanciers.

Figures from British Pigeon Fanciers medical research team reveal that up to 22 per cent of pigeon fanciers across the globe suffer from the allergy and up to 31 per cent in Britain.

The allergic reaction affecting the lungs is experienced by different people in different ways depending on how sensitive they are to pigeon dust, feathers and droppings.

Symptoms normally show two to six hours after contact with pigeons and include shortness of breath, exhaustion, weight loss, dry coughs, headaches, aching joints and sweating.

It is unclear how much contact a person can have with pigeons before they are likely to get it.

The illness itself is not usually fatal and most people only experience problems from time to time, but it can cause chronic illnesses and lung damage which can lead to death.

Stewart Wardrop, manager of the Royal Pigeon Racing Associatio,n said he had never heard of someone dying from the condition.

It is recommended that pigeon fanciers wear masks, caps, jackets and possibly even goggles when near the birds – especially when cleaning them out.