If you go by the current news cycle, we live in the safest times in history and yet it seems that every day we are bombarded with the fact that this product we have been using for so long is now a risk for cancer or stroke (bacon, ham, and sausages being the latest victims). Which brings us to the topic of today’s article: old pillows, and the potential risks that come with them. We don’t want to sound alarmist and while you certainly won’t die from using an old pillow, we would like to educate you on the three main risks of using an excessively old pillow. Let’s get right to it.
Risk #1: Dust Mites
Research has shown that after just a year of use, 10 to 15 percent of your pillow’s weight could ultimately be comprised of nothing but dust mites and their fecal matter. This number increases to about 30% after 3 years. Now, while dust mites aren’t parasites as they only feed on dead skin cells, nor are they vectors for diseases, they are however a highly common allergen; probably the most common indoor allergen there is (most people are allergic to the waste they produce). Current estimates indicate that as many as ten percent of the population are allergic to dust mites, and further, high levels of exposure to dust mites have been linked to the development of asthma in young children.
Risk #2: Neck Issues
Old pillows tend to have one obvious characteristic: being lumpy. What was once a nice and fluffy pillow has now been reduced to something that looks like a badly made burrito and lying on it can feel more like laying your head down on a weirdly shaped stuffed animal. This defeats the purpose of a good pillow in the first place which is to provide support. The best pillow for people with neck pain is one which supports your head and neck while maintaining the spine’s natural curve. Using an old pillow may exacerbate or even cause neck and spine problems. Keep in mind that even the best neck pain pillows need to be changed more frequently than you might think.
Risk #3: Fungal Spores
When it comes to pillows, old is gold doesn’t apply; old is mold is more accurate. Old pillow samples (one and a half to two years old) were tested by scientists and discovered to contain a few thousand spores for each gram of a pillow’s weight, meaning your pillow could be housing millions of these spores. Scientists found about 16 varieties of these fungus spores but the most common variety is Aspergillus fumigatus which is also the most likely to cause disease; the resulting condition is known as Aspergillosis and is now the leading infectious cause of death in leukemia and bone marrow transplant patients, in addition to exacerbating asthma in adults. Fungi and the dust mites have a symbiotic relationship; the dust mites feed on the fungi while the fungi use the dust mites’ waste as a source of nitrogen and nutrition. And needless to say, since we spend as much as one third of our lives with our face pressed to our pillow, breathing in all those spores, the risk is very real.
“But my pillow is synthetic!” I can hear you saying now. Guess what? Synthetic pillows were discovered to contain even more fungal spores compared to natural pillows! Synthetic pillows not only had a higher concentration of fungi, particularly the Aspergillus fumigatus but also a wider variety of fungi including those you find on damp shower walls.
How Often Should I Change My Pillow Then?
The question at the heart of the matter at hand today. Before we talk about replacing, let’s talk about cleaning. First, the pillowcase: that one should be washed every three weeks at the very least. The pillow itself? Every 3 months to be safe. Please read the washing instructions that come with your pillow very carefully as they would differ depending on pillow type. Note that some kinds of pillows are totally not machine washable, and may have to be dry cleaned or hand washed.
So how often should you change your pillow entirely then? This would depend if you have allergy issues or not. For the average non-allergic individual, you should replace your average pillow every two or three years, depending on the type and quality of pillow. Polyester pillows, for example should be replaced the most often, while pillows such as buckwheat hull pillows can last up to 10 years. If you suffer from allergies, you may have to change your pillows much more often, maybe even as frequently as every six months if your allergies are severe and you are using a lower quality polyester pillow.