Dr Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Mebane, North Carolina, told The Huffington Post that people sleeping on old pillows might be pressing their faces against dirt, oil and dead skin cells, which can cause acne.
The research centre works with engineers and scientists to develop better products and improve the quality of sleep for people by helping them pick the right mattresses and pillows.
Dust mites also set up home in pillows and can exacerbate asthma and trigger allergic reactions, according to Dr Mark Neustrom, an allergist & immunologist at Kansas City Allergy and Asthma Associates.
The American Lung Associations tells us "Dust mites are not parasites; they don't bite, sting or burrow into our bodies. The harmful allergen they create comes from their fecal pellets and body fragments. Dust mites are nearly everywhere; roughly four out of five homes in the United States have detectable levels of dust mite allergen in at least one bed." They are microscopic creatures, about 0.4 millimeters in length, that feast on flakes of human skin.
Don't you feel better now, know they don't bite or sting; and your allergic reaction is only due to burying your face in a pillow full of their feces? And you may feel better knowing, according to WebMD, that "Dust mites like to eat dead skin from pets and humans. You probably shed enough skin a day to feed a million dust mites."
Down pillows and comforters attract the most dust mites, and they cannot be cleaned conventionally to get rid of dust mites. After 1 year, your pillows' weight may be 10 to 15 percent dust mite waste.
Of the 20 percent of people who suffer from allergies, around two thirds may be allergic to dust mites that live in carpets and bedding.
Some tests have revealed high levels of ‘living’ contamination on the outside of the pillows. In some cases, rips and tears meant that the germs had found their way into the filling. Some pillows were contaminated with the E.coli stomach bug. Others contained germs that can cause respiratory and urinary tract infections.
He explained that if dust allergy sufferer’s reactions are much stronger in the morning and at night, their pillow may be to blame, because the protein that triggers reactions to the mites is not airborne.
Dr Tucker warned that simply popping on a clean pillow case is not enough. ‘People put a clean pillow case on and it looks and smells nice and fresh but you are wrapping up something really nasty underneath,’ he said.
Dr Oexman suggests regularly washing bedding and putting it in a tumble drier as an extra precaution.
He also advises looking for a pillow that fills the gap between your head and shoulders when you lie down, when it comes to shopping for a new one.
People who sleep on their stomach or back should pick slimmer pillows, whereas side sleepers should opt for a plumper pillow to provide necessary support he claims.
Pillow Cleaning and Replacement Tips
Allergy sufferers should opt for synthetic pillows over feather ones and fit them with anti-allergen covers.
Kill mites by washing pillows regularly at 60C or putting them in the freezer for 24 hours.
Good Housekeeping recommends washing your pillows once every three months on a delicate cycle.
Wash two pillows together to balance the machine and use only a small amount of detergent. Rinse them twice.
On a hot sunny day, try hanging your pillows outside to dry. Bacteria and fungi like moist environments.
GH's Kathleen Hudley also has a good tip to work out if your pillow needs replacing.
Fold it in half, place a book on top and let go. If the pillow throws off the item and fluffs back to shape, it's still sleepworthy.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.