The researchers dissected synthetic pillow samples as well as feather pillows
and identified severe thousand spores of fungus per gram of used pillow. This
translates out to over a million spores per pillow. Aspergillus fumigatus was
the species most commonly found in the pillows.
Fungus in bedding was originally studied in 1936, but no new reports have
examines this topic in the past seventy years. Fungal contamination of bedding
was first studied in 1936, but there have been no reports in the last seventy
years. For this new study the team studied samples from ten pillows with between
1.5 and 20 years of regular use.
Each pillow contained a substantial fungal load, with four to 16 different
species of fungi identified per sample and even higher numbers found in synthetic
pillows. Aspergillus fumigatus was particularly evident in synthetic pillows,
and fungi as diverse as bread and vine moulds and those usually found on damp
walls and in showers were also found.
"We know that pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats
fungi, and one theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites'
feces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with human skin scales),” said
Professor Ashley Woodcock, the leader of the research. “There could
therefore be a 'miniature ecosystem' at work inside our pillows."
Aspergillus is a very common fungus, found in the air, household plant pots,
cellars, compost, and even ground pepper and spices. The resulting condition
of Aspergillus, invasive Aspergillosis, occurs mainly in the lungs and sinuses,
although it can spread to other organs such as the brain. It is very difficult
to treat and can be deadly under some circumstances.
Aspergillus can also worsen asthma, particularly
in adults who have had asthma for many years, and cause allergic
patients with allergic tendencies.
Constant exposure to fungus in bed, due to spore-infected pillows, can be
problematic. Dr Geoffrey Scott, Chairman of the Fungal Research
Trust which funded the study,
said: "These new findings are potentially of major significance to people
with allergic diseases of the lungs and damaged immune systems - especially
those being sent home from hospital."
Professor Ashley Woodcock added: "Since patients
spend a third of their life sleeping and breathing close to a
large and varied source
of fungi, these findings certainly have important implications for patients
with respiratory disease - especially asthma and sinusitis."