Pillow talk can lead to nightmares

pillow sprinkling fungal sporesAs you lay your head to rest, you are banging heads and rubbing noses with a few million mycelious associates.

Researchers from the University of Manchester have found, those soft plushy cushions we’re using to support our heads, as we recoup our body’s and souls each night, are also supporting a million plus fungal spores.

Teasing apart pillows

Curious, the research team chopped up a couple of pre-owned pillows, to see who all was lingering inside.

The exercise quickly became a nightmare.

The average pillow was not just stuffed with feathers or synthetic fibres, several thousand fungal spores were along for the ride.

The fungal load

The final stat – the average pillow contained a million “baby” fungi.

The fungi fraternizing with the feathers and things, belonged to multiple fungal species. The minimum number of fungi being hosted by the collection of pillows was 4, the maximum 16. Some of the fungal residents had travelled from vine yards and bakeries, while others were wall flowers, typically associated with rising damp.

For the record – fungi seemed to show a slight preference for the modern synthetic versions.

The pillow food chain

If you have not been grossed out sufficiently, here comes the sequel in this “Nightmare on Pillow Street”.

Pillows are also inhabited by house dust mites ……….it is a jungle inside that fluffy pink pillow case.

The dust mites eat the fungi. Digesting the good bits and poohing out the bits they cannot use. But since nature “loves” to re-cycle, the fungi then eat the dust mites’ faeces.

Changing the pillow case won’t destroy the zoo

The ecosystem inside your pillow can’t be washed away, by washing the pillow case !

It is quite literally part of the furniture – so should you worry ?

The research team think that some people may be dying, thanks to their pillows.

Aspergillus fumigates is a killer

One of the species of fungi showing up in lots of the pillows, was Aspergillus fumigates.

If you have a strongly healthy immune system, Aspergillus fumigates doesn’t pose much of a problem, but for people whose immune systems are struggling a bit, it can cause problems, it is particularly associated with lung problems such pneumonia, asthma and sinusitis. 

In immunocompromised patients, such as patients infected with HIV and those undergoing chemotherapy or treatment with steroids, the fungus can kill.

Blame the pillow

To be fare, Aspergillus fumigates loves to gets out and about, it is carried in the air and pot plants, computers and ground pepper and spices, are among the places it routinely hangs out.

So pillows aren’t the only place it can be found. But you don’t usually stick your nose in a pot plant !

Protecting yourself from your pillow

If you’re immunocompromised or prone to asthma and allergies, maybe it is time to kill the OLD pillow. 

There two ways to KILL a pillow :

  • one would be to send the feathers flying, by dumping it and replacing it with a new one. If you can afford it, a feather one is probably better, because the feathered pillows seem to attract less fungal associates. Of course, if you’re allergic to feathers – a new feather pillow will ruffle a few feathers.
  • the second way to kill a pillow, suffocate it. I’m not referring to throttling it, as you twist it so that it lies just the way you want, by suffocating, I mean wrap it in plastic protector, like hospitals sometimes do.

Take the pillow talk out from under the covers

If killing the pillow seems a bit violent and sounds a lot like germaphobia, but you’re still a little concerned about sleeping ON the jungle.

Pop the pillow outside for an hour or two when you change the linen. A little pillow sun tanning will cook some of the mites and dry things out, which should decrease the fungal load, a little.

Fungal contamination of bedding - press release from the University of Manchester. 

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Further reading

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