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Are Down Duvets & Pillows good or bad for Allergies and Asthma?

Contrary to many people's conceptions, down is, in fact, the best choice for asthmatics and people with allergies. An allergy to down and feathers is extremely rare, and in nearly all cases, an allergy to mites is the main problem for asthmatics and people that suffer from allergies.

Recent medical studies show that synthetic pillows may contain eight times more allergens (from mite) than down and feather filled pillows.

Furthermore, dust mites are killed at around 57°C, when washing the down products or restoring them in our service department. Putting the down products in the freezer will also kill the dust mites.

  • Does the synthetic content in pillows and duvets increase the risk of asthma?

    This question was raised in the periodical journal for Norwegian doctors in 1998 by Martinus Løvik, (Tidsskrift for den Norske Lægeforening nr. 10,1998;118:1585-7).

    Traditionally, patients suffering from asthma have been advised to quit down duvets and pillows and start using synthetic duvets and pillows. Løvik stresses that this general advise has been based on tradition and belief, rather than on empirical research and analysis.

    Løvik’s article refers to British research and research from New Zealand examining the content in sleeping pillows and duvets, exploring whether the content contributes to the issue of serious asthma. The researches to which Løvik is referring are;

    1. Strachan DP, Carey IM "Home environment and severe asthma in adolescence; a population based case-control study." BMJ 1995; 311:1053-6
    2. Kemp TJ, Siebers RW, Fishwick D, O’Grady GB, Fitzharris P, Crane J. "House dust mite allergen in pillows." BMJ 1996; 313:916

    The first article focuses on British children suffering from serious breathing problems. Two key factors were shown to affect these breathing problems: living with fur-coated pets increased the problems, while pillows filled with down had a significant protective effect in comparison to pillows with synthetic content.

  • The second research, from New Zealand, compared down pillows and synthetic pillows’ ability to increase the risk of severe asthma, and concludes that synthetic pillows may contain as much as eight times more allergens from mite than down filled pillows, and that the allergy to mite is the major problem.

    Additionally, this research also concluded that both pillows with polyester filling and pillows with down filling had the same type of pillow-shell, made out of down proof cotton textile.

    This rules out earlier statements saying that more loosely woven pillow-shells in down pillows make it more penetrable and therefore attract more mite.

    I.e. The significant factor is the content of the pillow.

    Since there is a significant statistical relation/connection between asthma and allergy towards house dust mite, synthetic pillows should be avoided by people with allergies or asthma.

    This also applies to down duvets versus synthetic duvets, even if pillows are much closer to your airways.

    Løviks stresses the fact that eight hours a day, one third of our life, our head is placed on the pillow. Dust and air is pressed in and out of the pillow when we lift or turn our head. Modern medical research corroborate that the pillow with synthetic content may be the most important negative factor in the indoor climate.

Further sources to Løvik’s article:

  1. Løvik M, Gaarder PI, Mehl R. Red. "The house dust mite; its biology and the role in allergic disease. A synopsis." Allergy 1998
  2. Sporik R, Chapman MD,Platts.Mills TAE. "House dust mite exposure as a cause of asthma." Clin Exp Allergy 1992;22:897-906
  3. Omenaas E, Bakke P, Eide GE, Elsayed S, Gulsvik A. "Serum house-dust-mite antibodies and reduced FEV in adults of a Norwegian community." Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1995; 152: 1158-63
  4. Omenaas E, Bakke P, Eide GE, Elsayed S, Gulsvik A. "Serum house dust mite antibodies: Predictor of increased bronchial responsiveness in adults of a community." Eur Respir J 1996; 9:919-25
  5. Naspitz CK, DinizC, Rizzo MC, Fernandez-Caldas E, Solè D. "Human scalps as a resevoir of domestic mites." Lancet 1997;349:404
  6. Strachan D, Carey IM, "Reduced risk of wheezing in children using feather pillows is confirmed." BMJ 1997;314:518
  7. Butland BK, Strachan DP, Anderson HR. "The home environment and asthma symptoms in childhood: two population based case-control studies 13 years apart." Thorax 1997;52:618-24
  8. Kilpio K, Makinen-Kiljunen S, Haahtela T, Hannuksela M. "Allergy to feathers." Allergy 1998; 53: 159-64
  9. Linna O, Niinimaki A, Makinen-Kiljunen S. "Immunologic cross-reactivity between hen’s feather and house-dust-mite allergen extracts." Allergy 1994; 49:795-6