After a tiresome day, there is nothing better than crawling into bed and laying your head down onto a soft, comforting pillow. But before you drift off into the sweetest of dreams, take a moment to think about the hidden dangers lurking within your pillow. It could turn out to be your worst nightmare...
A 2006 study looked into the fungi living in pillows, and they discovered that the most common three fungi were: Aspergillus fumigatus, Aureobasidium pullulans and a yeast, called Rhodotorula. What’s frightening is that Aspergillus fumigatus, the most common fungus found in the pillows, is known to have implications for patients who have respiratory disease, especially those individuals suffering from asthma and sinusitis.
The study went further, discovering that fungi were more prolific in synthetic fibres than natural ones. Over the past 30 years, our bedding buying habits have changed from feather and flock pillows, sheets and blankets to mainly polyester pillows and quilts. This means that we are being exposed to more of this potentially harmful fungus and that our pillows aren’t as hygienic as we think.
For people living with the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a respiratory illness that affects 400,000 people in Oceania, the threat from this harmful fungus is very real. A recently published study found that up to 4% of COPD sufferers will develop infectious aspergillus, which has a startling mortality rate of 40-70%. This means that in any one year, approximately 7000 people die prematurely from invasive aspergillosis.
And the most common fungus that causes invasive aspergillosis is Aspergillus fumigatus, the same fungi that is the most commonly found in pillows.
Even for those who don’t suffer from COPD, there is still cause for concern from invasive aspergillus.
More than ever, people are buying pillows that are branded as being “allergy friendly” and these are often made from buckwheat, but contrary to their allergy friendly claims, they can sometimes be the cause of someone’s reaction.
As well as being a hotbed for aspergillosis, buckwheat has been a known allergen since 1909. A report from 2003 outlines the case of a 24 year old man in the US who went to his doctor reporting that he had been suffering from a worsening cough for the past three months, eventually becoming asthmatic. Any kind of medication prescribed to him was ineffective, yet the patient noted that anytime he spent time away from home his symptoms would improve, only to worsen when he returned.
This led the doctors to test for any allergies the patient may be suffering from, and the results showed that he was suffering from a strong allergic reaction to both his buckwheat pillow as well as the aspergillus fungi growing inside of it. After removing both buckwheat pillows from his apartment, his cough and other symptoms completely resolved within four days.
So how can you protect yourself from potentially harmful and hidden microbes in your pillows? One way would be to use a pillow protector to limit the physical contact you may be having with anything harmful within the pillow. Additionally, replacing your pillows more frequently will reduce the amount of harmful Aspergillus fumigatus you’re being exposed to. Moreover, being aware of what your pillows are made from will help you better understand the potential risks you are living with. If you use a synthetic or buckwheat pillow, it may be worth looking into replacing them with a natural feather pillow, which has fewer porous holes, therefore reducing contamination.
Perhaps most important of all is simply being aware of the risks of infectious aspergillosis on susceptible people. Taking these simple precautions can help reduce the rate of premature deaths from infectious aspergillosis in the community.
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