Now that sounds like a disgusting topic, doesn’t it! But apparently our pillows are a perfect breeding ground for fungi. We put about 20 gallons of sweat into our beds over the course of a year in addition to old skin cells and of course, there are the dust mites, all of which provide food for the fungi. And our beds are toasty warm, so it is a perfect medium for fungi to grow. According to a preliminary study by Dr. Ashley Woodcock, a respiratory doctor from the University of Manchester, there are a large variety of fungi growing in our pillows, and the older the pillow, the more the fungi. The most common fungi found was Aspergillus, which can worsen the problems of those with respiratory disease like severe asthma or sinusitis, and it can be infectious to those that have very suppressed immune systems, such as leukemia, transplantation, and AIDs patients. Because of the close proximity between the pillow and the respiratory tract, it is possible that pillows can be the source of fungi infection.
Synthetic pillows and quilts, even though they are frequently sold as hypo-allergenic, actually cause more allergen problems than feather pillows, possibly because the feather pillows require a higher quality cover in order to keep the feathers inside. The covers of synthetic pillows tend to be more porous, perhaps allowing more allergens in.
Am I suggesting we all throw out our pillows? No. Those with severe respiratory disease or those that are immuno-compromised may wish to get plastic covers for their pillows. As for the rest of us, more research is needed to give a definitive answer, but most likely, just as our immune system is strengthened by contact with bacteria, it might also strengthened by contact with fungi. If you are freaked out by the idea of fungi in your pillows, you can change them every six months or so.
The University of Manchester, online at: University of Manchester Press Release
A Woodcock, N. Steel, C.B. Moore, S.J. Howard, A. Custovik, D.W. Denning; European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Volume 61, Page 140, January 2006.