Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Hypoallergenic Pillow
Allergies affect millions of people in the U.S. The most common household allergy triggers include dust mites, mold, mildew, and pet dander. These contaminants are drawn to fibrous surfaces, including pillowcases and sheets. As a result, people with allergies often experience poor sleep quality.
In recent years, hypoallergenic pillows have become popular among sleepers. Some are made from naturally hypoallergenic, plant-based fibers, while others contain synthetics treated with hypoallergenic additives. All of these pillows stave off allergens to some degree, but some are more effective than others. Read on to learn how hypoallergenic pillows are made and what they do to keep allergens at bay.
Please note: Tuck.com is not a medical website, and our advice about allergies and hypoallergenic pillows should never replace information from a licensed medical professional. If you experience allergy symptoms and want to learn more about your best options, please consult your physician to learn more.
Common Allergy Triggers for Sleepers
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergies affect millions of adults and children in the U.S., and are one of the nation’s leading causes of chronic illness. Some allergies are considered allergic diseases, such as food, drug, and insect sting allergies. These can be life-threatening in some cases. Others, such as hay fever caused by exposure to pollen, are considered seasonal allergies.
Perennial allergies, characterized by light to moderate year-round symptoms, are a persistent source of irritation for sleepers. Allergens associated with perennial effects include:
- Dust mites, small white arachnids that subsist on dead skin cells. They are found throughout the world, but thrive in warm, humid areas. The mites themselves can trigger allergies. Additionally, their feces contains enzymes that can cause respiratory issues.
- Mold and mildew are fungi that scatter seeds known as spores. When spores enter the air, they can trigger allergies in humans. Indoor molds and mildew are considered perennial allergens. Exposure to outdoor mold and mildew may also lead to allergy symptoms.
- Those who own dogs, cats, and other furry pets are vulnerable to allergies from dander, a microscopic, dandruff-like substance that animals (and humans) periodically shed. Dander can trigger allergies when it enters the nose, mouth, and other mucous membranes. Dust mites may also feed on dander, leading to an increase in mite populations.
Although perennial allergies affect everyone in different ways, the most common symptoms include:
- Runny nose and nasal congestion
- Itchy and/or watery eyes
- Excessive sneezing
Perennial allergies may not cause serious symptoms for most, but they can be highly disruptive to daily life, including sleep cycles. In the next section, we’ll learn more about hypoallergenic pillows and how they work.
What Is a Hypoallergenic Pillow?
First, it’s important to note that the term ‘hypoallergenic’ can be somewhat misleading. The federal government does not regulate the use of the term, meaning some pillows labeled as hypoallergenic may not be effective as others at reducing the spread of allergens. The bottom line: just because a manufacturer calls a pillow hypoallergenic does not mean it will completely eliminate allergy triggers.
Hypoallergenic pillows, by definition, contain materials that won’t trigger allergies in most sleepers and are designed to thwart the accumulation of dust mites, mold and mildew, and other common allergens. Most hypoallergenic pillows share at least one of the following characteristics:
- Allergen barrier: Dust mites and other allergens often thrive in pillow interiors, which are filled with dead skin cells and fairly warm. Some hypoallergenic pillows have outer covers, casings, or shells constructed with a tight weave that is difficult for allergens to penetrate.
- Consistent airflow: Air circulation can cause dust mites, mold and mildew spores, and other allergens to scatter, making it more difficult for them to settle. Certain types of pillow fill, such as buckwheat hulls and shredded memory foam, offer relatively strong airflow compared to other fill materials.
- Antimicrobial properties: Certain pillow materials are antimicrobial, making them resistant to allergens as well as bacteria. Antimicrobial fill materials include memory foam, and latex. Additionally, cover fabrics like linen and rayon from bamboo are also antimicrobial.
- Anti-allergen treatment: Pillows containing materials that are allergy triggers may actually be hypoallergenic if allergens are removed from the fill. For example, this practice is commonly used for pillows containing down and/or feathers, both of which can be allergy triggers.
As we’ve discussed, many natural and synthetic materials can possess hypoallergenic qualities. The following table breaks down hypoallergenic qualities for the most common pillow fill materials based on allergy trigger potential, fibrous texture, airflow, and other key factors.