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Pillow Talk: Keeping Allergies At Bay

We all know your pillow can make or break a good night's sleep. But what is less known is that it can also harbor an ecosystem of allergens that can 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 munch on shed dead skin cells. With that in mind, it makes sense that pillows are one of their preferred habitats.

Thankfully there are a myriad of choices out there to help minimise your allergy-risk and maximise your dream time. Let’s take a closer look at some conditions and the best pillows for the job.

Asthma

According to Asthma Australia, one in nine Australians have asthma. 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.

It’s probably no surprise that dust is the most common year-round trigger of asthma – and our pillows and bedding are perfect spots for dust mites to create a home.

The best ways asthma sufferers can protect themselves from these microscopic critters is to look for pillows with synthetic fibres like Dacron, 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.

pillow with synthetic fibres

Eczema

Eczema is a recurring skin condition that impacts one in three Australians at some point. According to Eczema Association of Australasia, it is most commonly found in people with a family history of an atopic disorder (in other words, people who are “hyperallergenic”, not to be confused with hypoallergenic) 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, and for being inhospitable to dust mites, as well as cooler to sleep on.

Hay fever

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 (hence why it’s appropriate for allergy sufferers).

Hypoallergenic vs anti-allergy

One thing to be mindful of when looking at pillows is the distinction between hypoallergenic and anti-allergy. Hypoallergenic means that the pillow is made from materials that are less likely to trigger allergies. Anti-allergy means the pillow has been treated to prevent dust mites/the dust mite allergen.

messy bed with white sheets

More pillow talk...

Finding the right pillow is a great start, but there are some other tricks of the trade.

  • Allergy sufferers and those with asthma and eczema should cover their pillows in a fully enclosed, dust mite-proof case to create an extra layer of protection.  
  • Wash your pillows, people. Always look at the instructions from the manufacturer, though, as not all pillow materials are machine-washable.
  • If you have a wool allergy, you can cover your wool pillow with a cotton case to keep it away from your skin. 
  • 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 are not ideal for side sleepers.
  • Wash your bedding in water hotter than 55°C 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 before you start blitzing your bedding. 

The above is not an exhaustive checklist of what materials will work for you; rather, guidelines to follow. There are many combinations out there that provide optimum 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/anti-allergy pillow.

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