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Your Pillow Can Be Full of Fungal Spores, Causing Asthma and Sinusitis

Your pillow may not be as comforting a concept as you may think. Researchers at The University of Manchester funded by the Fungal Research Trust have recently found out that pillows may be full of millions of fungal spores and those spores can greatly exacerbate asthma in adults and contribute to sinus infections. The results of this study were published this month in the scientific journal Allergy.

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 sinusitis in 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 potentially large and varied source of fungi, these findings certainly have important implications for patients with respiratory disease - especially asthma and sinusitis."

It is important to be aware of any and all possible triggers of asthma and sinusitis. If your asthma symptoms are persistent or you are suffering from chronic sinusitis, it may be a good idea to replace your pillow often to avoid the possible fungal triggers.


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