When you lay down at the end of a busy day, ready for a nice and peaceful rest, you probably think your cozy pillow is the most wonderful thing in the world. Well, think again. A new study has found that those comfortable pillows we rest our heads on — pillows that we spend countless hours trying to pick out — are actually full of fungus.
Now, there have been previous reports about dust mites in pillows, in quilts, and in mattresses. But, they can be somewhat controlled by vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum, washing sheets in warm water, and keeping your house clean and dust-free.
However, this fungus is a little peskier, to say the least. “We know that pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats fungi, and one theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites’ faeces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with human skin scales). There could therefore be a ‘miniature ecosystem’ at work inside our pillows,” Professor Ashley Woodcock, lead researcher, said.
“Since people spend a third of their life sleeping and breathing close to a potentially large and varied source of fungi, these findings could certainly have important implications for patients with respiratory disease — especially asthma and sinusitis.”
One particular kind — aspergillus fumigatus — is said to be the most likely to cause disease and aggravate asthma. The fungi quotient in pillows was first discussed and researched in the 1930s, but has not been further studied since then. This latest study took a look at 10 pillows, both synthetic and feathered, which had been used between one- and-a-half and 20 years.
There were upward of 16 differing fungi species found per pillow, with more in the synthetic pillows versus the feathered ones. The aspergillus fumigatus fungi — which can cause a condition called aspergillosis — was found in higher amounts in the synthetic models than in the feathered ones.
This fungus is quite common throughout our homes. It is found in places such as planted pots, carpets, and basements. It tends to affect the lungs and sinuses, but has been known to travel throughout the body, causing further problems. It can be very difficult to treat and because of this should be prevented at all costs.
The fungus is worse for those individuals who have an immunocompromised system and it can worsen asthma in those already living with the breathing condition.
“These new findings are potentially of major significance to people with allergic diseases of the lungs and damaged immune systems — especially those being sent home from hospital,” Dr. Geoffrey Scott, Chairman of the Fungal Research Trust, said. “I think particularly for asthma patients this is relevant. These fungi are found in the environment, so we are exposed to them everywhere. But I think it is advisable to disinfect pillows and buy feather ones to help reduce the exposure in the home.”
How this will affect those who do not have asthma or other respiratory ailments — or those with immune systems that are functioning at optimum caliber — is not yet known. There is some suggestion that it might actually boost the immune system. For the time being, do not throw out all your bedding, just ensure that you keep it clean and dry at all times.