We know a pillow can make or break a good night’s sleep, but what is less known is that it can harbour an ecosystem of allergens that trigger conditions like asthma, eczema and hay fever, with the most prolific culprits being dust mites. These little mites thrive in warm, humid conditions and consume dead skin cells. With that in mind, it makes sense that pillows are one of their preferred habitats.
There are a number of pillow choices out there to help minimise your allergy-risk. In this article, we take a closer look at some conditions and the best pillows for the job.
According to Asthma Australia, one in nine Australians have asthma. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include a feeling of breathlessness, a tight chest, wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks which are usually the result of a trigger (e.g. exercise, animal fur and other allergens such as dust). Asthma can also cause the sufferer to wake at night with symptoms.
The best ways asthma sufferers can protect themselves from dust mites is to look for pillows with synthetic fibres, as well as more natural alternatives like latex and natural wool-filled pillows. Latex and wool are anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic and naturally dust mite resistant.
Eczema is a recurring skin condition that impacts one in three Australians. According to the Eczema Association of Australasia, it is most commonly found in people with a family history of atopic disorders like asthma or hay fever.
Atopic eczema is the most common form of the condition in Australia. Symptoms of this are dry, red skin that is itchy. In more severe cases the skin may weep, bleed and then create a crusty surface layer.
There are multiple triggers for eczema (though it can also flare up and heal for no reason), including dust mites. Natural cotton or wool-filled pillows are recommended for their hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial qualities. They are known for being inhospitable to dust mites and are often cooler to sleep on.
Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever is triggered by airborne allergens (certain grass and pollens) and general allergens like dust and animal fur. Symptoms include itchy eyes, nose, throat and/or roof of the mouth, sneezing, blocked nosed, runny nose and weepy eyes.
Much like eczema and asthma sufferers, you’ll want to look at pillows that deter dust mites and offer a good level of breathability. Natural latex pillows are a good choice, as are wool and cotton (which are all naturally hypoallergenic) and anti-allergy hollowfibre. Hollowfibre is made from polyester, but it has a lighter weave so is more breathable.
Finding the right pillow
When choosing a pillow, consider how you sleep (back, stomach or side) as well as the allergenic risk. For example, cotton pillows can become quite flat, so they are not ideal for side sleepers. Allergy, asthma and eczema sufferers should cover their pillows in a fully enclosed, dust mite-proof case to create an extra layer of protection.
Hypoallergenic pillows vs anti-allergy pillows
One thing to be mindful of when looking at pillows is the distinction between hypoallergenic and anti-allergy. Hypoallergenic pillows are made from materials that are less likely to trigger allergies. Anti-allergy pillows have been treated to prevent dust mites and associated allergens.
Wash your pillows wherever possible. Always look at the instructions from the manufacturer, though, as not all pillow materials are machine-washable.
Wash your bedding in water hotter than 55°C. This will help to kill mites and get rid of the allergen they produce. The National Asthma Council Australia recommends that if you can’t use a hot wash, use a commercial product that contains essential oils like eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil, which has been created to kill dust mites in cold water. Again, always check the manufacturer instructions.
Vacuum your mattress on low suction. Doing so on a regular basis may help to alleviate the build up of dust and debris, and can help to alleviate symptoms.
The above is not an exhaustive checklist of what will work for you. There are many combinations of materials and treatments that provide optimal comfort along with hypoallergenic properties or anti-allergy treatments. Rest assured – you don’t need to compromise on quality or comfort in the search for the ideal, hypoallergenic or anti-allergy pillow.
FAQs on pillows, asthma and allergies
What is the best pillow for asthma?
The best pillows for asthma sufferers are those made of synthetic fibres or treated to be anti-microbial. Latex or wool may also be suitable, as they are dust mite resistant and naturally hypoallergenic. Other natural fillings such as feather or down are likely to trigger or exacerbate symptoms of asthma.
What are the best anti-allergy pillows?
The best anti-allergy pillow is one that is treated to prevent the growth of dust mites and bacteria, such as an anti-microbial treatment. Sealy pillows feature a Tencel cover treated with SmarTex to disperse moisture and promote a healthier sleeping environment.
What is a hypoallergenic pillow?
Hypoallergenic pillows are made from materials that are less likely to trigger allergies, such as synthetic fibres. Latex or wool may be suitable, as they are dust mite resistant and naturally hypoallergenic. Of course, those with latex allergies should avoid pillows with a latex filling.