Skip to content

    Asthma Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Your Pillows Are Full of Fungus

    'Small Zoo' Buzzes Beneath Our Sleeping Heads, Researchers Say
    By
    WebMD Health News

    Oct. 14, 2005 - Fungal spores fill our pillows, British researchers report.

    Science has already alerted us to the unsavory fact that tiny dust mites populate the pillows on which we sleep. But that's not the end of the gross-out, thanks to Ashley Woodcock, MD, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester, England, and colleagues.

    Woodcock's team analyzed five feather pillows and five synthetic pillows in regular use for one-and-a-half to 20 years. The pillows, they report, each carried up to 16 different fungi.

    "We secrete about 100 liters of sweat into a bed over a year. We do not wash our quilts and pillows, so they are an ideal place to find fungi," Woodcock tells WebMD. "And sure enough, we found them."

    The Zoo in Your Pillow

    Woodcock thinks fungi, dust mites, and people are probably part of a pillow ecosystem.

    "You have a small zoo in there," he says. "It is thought that human skin scales in bedding are used as a food source for fungi, and the fungi are eaten by mites. And the fungi might sit on the mite feces as well."

    Lest you think that Woodcock is merely warming up for Halloween, he does have a serious purpose. He studies the origins of childhood allergy. During his research, he ran across a 1936 paper reporting that bed pillows grow fungi. Since then, he says, nobody has looked at the issue.

    "It may be no risk for normal people," Woodcock says. "But one in five people has a respiratory disease, and these fungi might pose a significant risk for people with asthma and patients with immune suppression."

    For those not allergic, or susceptible to diseases caused by fungal infections, the populations in our pillows may actually help build up our immune systems.

    "Maybe, for normal people, it is not a bad thing," Woodcock suggests. "Maybe we need fungal exposure as press-ups for our immune system. On the other hand, maybe as we've changed to synthetic bedding from feather bedding, the flora and fauna have changed, too. We don't know."

    Though feather pillows do carry a lot of fungi, they don't carry as much or as many different types as synthetic pillows, Woodcock's team reports in the current online issue of the journal Allergy.

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

    Start Now

    Today on WebMD

    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    5 common triggers.
    group jogging in park
    Should you avoid fitness activities?
     
    asthma inhaler
    Learn about your options.
    man feeling faint
    What’s the difference?
     
    Madison Wisconsin Capitol
    Slideshow
    woman wearing cpap mask
    Article
     
    red wine pouring into glass
    Slideshow
    Woman holding inhaler
    Quiz
     
    Man outdoors coughing
    Article
    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    Article
     
    10 Worst Asthma Cities
    Slideshow
    runner
    Article