Do you know what kind of critters are crawling around on your pillow right now? You probably don’t want to know, but they may be affecting your health. Thankfully, replacing poly-fill or down pillows with latex and memory foam pillows can help.
Dust mites, fungus and bacteria have been found in down and poly-fill pillows and in mattresses as well. They can pose a danger to anyone who is allergic to them or suffers from asthma, not to mention the thought is pretty gross! Learn how to protect yourself from allergies and eradicate these little guys from your bed.
What’s in my pillow?
Dust mites are very small and look like a cross between spiders and ticks. Indeed they are related, as all are in the “Arachnida” class. These creepy crawlies are found throughout our homes in pillows, mattresses, bedding, toys, furnishings, drapes and carpeting. They are worse in humid areas or months and may not be as prevalent in drier areas.
Their ugly little faces are busy chomping away on your dead skin, while their feces is thought to feed fungus that is growing in your pillow. This is the type of ecosystem most of us have no desire to sleep with on a nightly basis. Who would?!
Dust mites feed on shedded skin cells from people and pets, not on live animals so they won’t bite you or transmit disease. However, people may experience allergies specifically to the mite and its debris or they may exacerbate existing allergies and asthma.
Symptoms which indicate you may have a dust mite allergy include:
- difficulty with breathing
- asthma, watery eyes
- itchy eyes
- sinus problems
- sore throat
- itchy skin
- rashes or hives.
These may be chronic or exist during humid times of the year. Overall 25% of people experience allergies and 2/3 of those who do are allergic to dust mites. WebMD estimates over 20 million Americans have dust allergies.
A study from the University of Manchester tested 10 synthetic and down pillows with ages ranging between 1-1/2 and 20 years. They found that the pillows contained up to 16 fungi, though the authors noted most are relatively benign to healthy people. Some were found to have aspergilluss fumigatus which is a common fungus, but which has been linked to deaths in bone marrow transplants and leukemia patients.
While we should note these fungi are fairly common in houses and don’t appear to be a big concern for the average person, those with weak immune systems or respiratory disorders may want to be especially mindful of pillow hygiene.
Bacteria can accumulate in pillows from a variety of sources, your body being a major one. Bacteria arrive from your face, hands, breath, saliva, hair, etc. Pets and humid environments can also encourage bacteria on your pillow. Depending on what type is present, this can contribute to colds, pink eye, pimples, and other irritations.
Make sure you always use a washable pillow cover, and wash it frequently with high heat to help kill germs. Your water should be near 160 degrees to effectively disinfect your fabrics. If your water isn’t that warm, you may need to adjust your water heater temporarily.
Latex and Memory Foam Pillows May Help Your Health
Latex and memory foam pillows inhibit the growth of mold, fungus and dust mites. These are also considered two of the best mattress types for overall health as well. They are considered naturally hypo-allergenic and will help protect your health from these home invaders. The cellular nature of these two materials and the lack of tasty fibers proves inhospitable to dust mites and is not supportive of bacteria and fungus.
The benefits of latex and memory foam pillows are numerous as their contours provide support to the neck and head for back and side sleepers, in addition to protecting you from the dust mite ecosystem. No pillow is 100% free of dust mites, so it is important to cover all pillows when they are first purchased.
Waterproof and dust mite proof covers prevent the transfer of mites and moisture. Research both latex and memory foam pillows and see which one will best fit your needs. We recommend 100% natural latex pillows and plant-based memory foam pillows like those from Amerisleep.com since they eliminate VOCs to further improve healthiness.
In addition to replacing fiber pillows with latex and memory foam pillows you should also:
- To reduce allergens, use mite-proof protective covers on all pillows in the home, including memory foam and latex pillows. Mattresses and box springs should also be fully encased for optimal effect. New types of covers are more comfortable and quiet than old “plastic” styles and help protect your purchase and your health.
- Put the cover on your pillow from day one, and only remove it for laundering.
- Wash all bedding in hot water to kill dust mites and bacteria; cool water doesn’t work for this purpose.
- Sheets, pillowcases and mattress pads should be washed at least once a week. Comforters and blankets should also be washed regularly, at least once every two weeks.
- NIEH recommends freezing non-washable bedding overnight to kill dust mites.
- Clean and vacuum mattresses at least every spring and fall per manufacturer instructions. One estimate is that within a ten year period, the amount of dead skin combined with dust mites and their feces would actually double the weight of your mattress. While opinions are are mixed, a mattress protector is a fairly cheap investment in your health.
- Use dehumidifiers to keep indoor humidity below 50%.
- Vacuum and steam clean carpets and rugs regularly, and use vacuums with HEPA filters so dust is captured and not released back into the air.
After reading about the startling inhabitants of a pillow within in the home you may be compelled to rush out and purchase the first replacement you find. Relax and remember you have been sleeping with these guys for a few months at least, one more day probably isn’t going to hurt.
Take your time and make a wise purchase that will provide a lasting benefit to your overall sleep and health. Quality memory foam pillows and natural latex pillows offer both support and healthiness, and can last for several years with proper care.