Dust, pollen, mould, and chemicals are just a few of the various biological and man-made substances that can assault your airways and skin.
When these substances enter the body through your nose, mouth, skin, or eyes, some people’s immune systems overreact. That can lead to a stuffy nose, inflamed airways, and itchiness — a condition otherwise known as allergies.
Many of these potential allergens can come from an unlikely source: your bed. Encasing the mattress in a special outer cover — an allergy barrier — is one simple way to ease your symptoms.
Allergy rates have been skyrocketing since the 1950s, with an estimated 20% of people in developed countries suffering from the miserable condition. And scientists have been looking to our homes as one source of our misery.
“You talk about why people have allergies, everyone’s blaming all sorts of things,” Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Tech Insider. “In reality, it’s right under your nose.”
And by “under your nose,” Tierno is referring to your home — specifically, your bedding, including your pillows and your mattress.
Humans spend about a third of their lives sleeping. And unfortunately, your mattress, pillows, and bed sheets harbour an abundance of allergens. Your mattress alone contains dust mites, fungal spores, bacteria, plasticisers, flame retardants, and human skin cells; many of which can exacerbate or cause asthma, allergies, or even a simple stuffy nose.
And no one is immune.
“With dust mites, even [if] you’re not allergic, you will respond to dust mites debris and dust mites in an allergic way,” Tierno said. “Everybody responds, especially to the faeces of dust mites. Dust is basically everywhere.”
But while dust is a major culprit — the average 1,500 square foot house collects about 40 pounds of dust every year — it’s only part of the problem. In one study from
2015, researchers found that feather and synthetic pillows aged 1.5 to 20 years contained between 4 and 17 different species of fungus. Another study from 2014 found that simply rolling from your stomach onto your back was enough to resuspend allergy-causing particles to detectable levels in the air.
So what can you do to minimise your contact with this noxious debris? That’s where that simple allergy barrier comes in, Tierno said. The impervious outer cover that fully encases your mattress and pillows can shield you from the nasty things lurking within them. In addition, you should also wash your bed sheets — which also accumulate dramatic amounts of debris — at least once a week in hot water.
“You’re breathing that air in eight hours a day, every day of your life,” Tierno said. “That’s why it’s imperative to keep it relatively clean, so you don’t overexpose your body to these allergens.”
Allergy barriers, such as this one from Allersoft, are relatively cheap. They will only set you back about $US60 to $US80, depending upon the size of your mattress.
They are water-proof but not vapour-proof, so they will allow gaseous material to come out from the pillow and mattress, but not allow the passage of debris such as the bacteria, fungi, and all the other stuff swimming around in there, Tierno said.
And if you don’t get one, Tierno said, be prepared to suffer the consequences: “No matter what you do, you’re in trouble because you’re breathing in all this accumulated garbage.”
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