Though there is a wealth of information available to consumers about when and how to go about purchasing a new mattress, little is said about that other important sleep tool – the pillow. We all may love our pillows, and children can be seen toting them through airports and on car rides across the country, but few of us realize that experts say that we should be replacing them as frequently as every six months. Who knew? According to Robert Oexman, DC, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, though we may be attached to our pillows and associate them with comfort, we should never hold on to them for more than a year or two maximum. Though they don’t break down or lose their usefulness in the way that mattresses can after a period of years, they simply can absorb all sorts of germs and dirt. “People talk about how nasty a mattress gets,” Oexman says, but when it comes to a pillow, “it’s just not something you want to be around longer than six months.”
Though when you first hear this, you may argue that the pillow case protects the pillow from absorbing any kind of environmental pollution, upon more careful thought it becomes obvious that the pillow is vulnerable to contamination of all types. From tiny creatures such as bed mites to the cells that flake off of our faces, old make up and dirt and oil, your pillow can be contributing to acne and carrying around all sorts of allergens. Mark R. Neustrom, DO of Kansas City Allergy and Asthma Associates says that there’s no doubt that an older pillow is hosting these members of the spider family. “You can’t see them, but they’re concentrated where people are in things like bedding and carpeting,” he says. “Roughly twenty percent of people have allergies, and of those who do, around two thirds may be allergic to the types of dust mites that congregate indoors.” How can you tell whether the allergens are in your pillow rather than coming from other environmental sources, such as your pets or trees? A good clue is when your are experiencing your symptoms at their worst. If you are suffering when you first awaken but then upon moving away from the bed things clear up, it’s a good sign that the source of your problems is your pillow.” Another indication is if your allergies are afflicting you all year round rather than seasonally. Of course, it’s important to remember that dust mites don’t cause disease, so it’s not like sleeping on them is a danger. But that doesn’t make the idea of resting your head on them every night any more attractive. You can minimize the impact of dust mites by washing bedding frequently and throwing your pillows into a dryer set on low for about thirty minutes. Or you can make it even easier on yourself and go purchase a new pillow.