Background Previous studies have demonstrated significantly higher house dust mite (HDM) allergen levels from synthetic pillows, compared to feather pillows. Reasons for these differences could be lower permeability of feather pillow coverings to allergen in dust, greater HDM penetration of synthetic pillow covering, or both.
Objectives To determine the permeability of synthetic and feather pillow coverings to live HDMs and house dust.
Methods Twenty live adult HDMs were seeded on top of two types of synthetic pillow covering (one standard polyester and one newer polyester/cotton type) and one type of feather pillow coverings with adequate food supply below in sealed culture dishes, kept at 23°C and 70% relative humidity. After 24 and 48 h live HDM numbers remaining on top of the coverings were enumerated microscopically. Three aliquots of fine house dust (each in triplicate) were placed on top of the synthetic and feather pillow coverings, shaken gently for 30 min and penetrated dust was collected and weighed.
Results After 24 h, all 20 HDMs had penetrated the standard synthetic pillow coverings, and no HDMs had penetrated either the feather pillow or the new synthetic pillow coverings after 24 or 48 h. Dust permeability (% of applied dust) for the standard synthetic, new type synthetic and feather pillow coverings were 0.88%, 0.07%, and 0.07%, respectively. This compared to 0.02% for a commercial occlusive pillow cover.
Conclusions These findings of total permeability of standard synthetic pillow coverings to live HDMs, and their greater permeability to house dust could explain their reported higher HDM allergen levels, compared to feather pillow coverings. Newer types of synthetic pillow coverings are similar to feather pillow coverings in their permeability to live HDMs and house dust.