Allergies can be a real pain in the nostrils. You turn red and swell with anger just thinking about allergies. Those of us who suffer from them spend a significant amount of time just trying to avoid provoking them. Depending on what we’re allergic to, that endeavor involves varying levels of “What’s in it?” “You guys go without me,” and “Do you own a cat?”
It’s irritating enough having to deal with allergies outside, at restaurants, and at the homes of friends and family. Your own home is supposed to be a sanctuary, but that’s not always how it works, especially for people with respiratory allergies.
Within the walls of your domicile, there are often a multitude of allergens, Finding ways to deal with them is paramount if you want to sleep better, breathe easier, and live happy, snot-free lives. Your crusade against allergies begins with your bedroom and, in particular, your mattress.
But just how much does your mattress contribute to the problem, and how can you mitigate that effect?
Feel free to skip the line and access the section of this article most relevant to you:
What Are Allergies?
Allergies are a glitch in the immune system. Normally, your immune system (which is designed to protect your body from harmful and infectious intruders) only marshals its forces when something dangerous comes in contact with your system. The problem is, the immune system can’t always tell friend from foe. Sometimes, foreign matter and substances that are either harmless or helpful become targets for the immune system, and it can cause some serious problems.
Allergies range from mild to severe, with the most extreme cases actually involving life-threatening anaphylaxis. They can sometimes result in additional allergy-related conditions, like asthma, that further complicate things. Whether mild, moderate, or severe, allergies are a chronic condition and rarely resolve on their own.
Allergens trigger an allergic reaction. There’s a wide variety of things people can be allergic to (called “Allergens”), and they fall primarily into one of three categories:
- Ingested—nuts, milk, shellfish, medications, or even certain food dyes are all examples
- Skin contact—insect bites and stings, grass, latex, nylon, and so forth
- Inhaled—Pollen, perfumes, pollution, certain cleaning supplies, you get the idea
In many cases, if an individual is allergic to an allergen, they will experience an allergic reaction regardless of how they come into contact with it. For example, a tree nut allergy is normally observed when the nut is ingested, but skin contact can also result in a reaction.
The symptoms you experience vary depending on how you’ve come in contact with the allergen. With ingested allergens, you’ll experience the inflammation primarily along the digestive tract—from the mouth to the intestines—potentially with some reactions showing on the skin as well. For ingestion, expect itching and swelling in the mouth and throat (including difficulty breathing for severe reactions), abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and so forth.
For skin contact, look for redness and swelling, itchiness, rashes, eczema, hives, and so on. In cases of bites or stings, excessive swelling beyond the site of the injury is the first sign. For mild reactions, look for the same symptoms as other skin reactions. For an anaphylactic reaction, expect swelling of the face, mouth, throat or tongue, rapid pulse and a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, wheezing, and trouble breathing and/or swallowing.
For respiratory contact, you can anticipate swelling of the eyes, nose, and throat, and itchiness in those areas. There’s usually increased fluid production (both mucus and tears), congestion, and soreness. For those who suffer from asthma, expect the more severe symptoms of anaphylaxis: constriction of airways, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Who’s at Risk?
These symptoms may sound dramatic, and severe reactions can be life-threatening, but not everyone’s at risk. The majority of people don’t have allergies, and aren’t living under the constant threat of sudden-yet-inevitable betrayal from their own immune system. Those that do have allergies tend to be on the mild to moderate side, with severe reactions being more rare, and a large portion of those cases being already diagnosed.
If you haven’t been diagnosed, but are starting to get suspicious about your skin’s complicated relationship with grass, or your perpetually runny nose, your best bet is to take a look at those hand-me-down genes. You know, the 23 pairs you inherited from your parents? If your parents (or siblings, or grandparents, or so on up the tree) have a history of allergies, then don’t go volunteering as tribute with those odds.
If signs point to yes, go see a specialist; you’ll be able to find out what you react to (there’s almost always more than one), and how best to manage it.
When Am I at Risk?
Each allergen comes with its own set of challenges. Peanut butter and milk pop up in some surprising places, and you may not know you react to a medication until you try it.
It takes a little bit of proactivity, but you can learn to pay attention to risk areas and mitigate that risk. Talk to others who share your allergy and talk tactics and strategy like a couple of generals in the War Room. You may have to be more vigilant than you’d really like, but it will pay off with a more comfortable life.
What Are Dust Mites?
Dust mites are another potential allergen that those who suffer from respiratory allergies need to be aware of. They’re microscopic members of the spider family, and they’re just as icky as their radioactive, Peter-Parker-biting counterparts. We’d provide a picture here, but as a company that sells mattresses, we believe strongly in helping you sleep at night.
What Do They Want From Us?
Dust mites, grossly enough, eat our dead skin cells. You know how sharks have that thing where they’re constantly losing teeth, and new ones are just popping in from behind to replace them? Yeah, our skin is kind of like that. The outermost layer, the epidermis, is primarily composed of dead cells that our body uses as a buffer between us and the harsh environment around us. As the skin underneath dies, it moves to the outer layer, pushing older layers off.
Most of the time, we don’t notice this shedding action, as it’s happening on a very small scale. But that small scale is perfect for the mites. We’re not going to be crass and make a gross frosted flakes comparison, but it’s there, if you want to imagine it for yourself. The good news is, unlike bed bugs, lice, and other small vermin like that, they’re not actually biting you, so there’s that.
Allergic to Your Crap
Here’s the icky part—it’s not the mites we’re allergic to. It’s their droppings. The little nightmares produce a lot of the stuff, and it apparently contains a chemical that quite irritating to the respiratory system, which is why so many people react to it.
Channeling Your Inner Terminator
Now that we’ve thoroughly grossed you out, you’re probably ready to go all “Hasta la vista, baby” on these pests. We don’t blame you. First, you need to know where they live, and they have surprisingly strict housing requirements:
- They can’t survive on hard surfaces
- They require a steady supply of dead skin cells to feed on
- They need humidity levels of 50% or above
- They prefer thinly woven fibers to live in, as they aren’t very good at penetrating denser materials.
That means that they’re most likely to live in bedding, fibrous couches, and carpet, in homes where the humidity levels are regularly pretty high. If you’re so inclined, you can replace the couch with something made of leather, and you can tear out the carpet and replace it with wood, tile, or laminate. For those of us who can’t afford to drop ten grand to replace our flooring and furniture, frequent vacuuming with a strong vacuum will help, as will keeping that humidity down.
As for your bed, it’s somewhat problematic, since many beds are sweat inducing, meaning that even if the air isn’t humid, your bed is. And you’re not very likely to replace your mattress and pillows with things made out of hard surfaces or leather (imagine peeling your face off of that in the morning). So your first line of defense is washing the bedding on a regular basis—preferably weekly—on hot water cycles (it takes about 130-degree water to kill them).
Mattresses and Allergens
This finally brings us to the inciting topic of this article: what’s the best mattress for allergies? Does the kind of mattress you have impact your level of allergen exposure? The short answer is “yes.” Here’s how that answer breaks down.
First, you need to know that by and large, your bed isn’t home to very many allergens. It’s not really hoarding pollen, or stockpiling cleaning supplies. That said, anything small enough to pass through curtains can potentially penetrate into at least the surface of your mattress, so you’ll want to keep the windows closed during spring and early summer to keep the majority of offenders out. On the whole, you only need to worry about one allergen in your bed: dust mites.
Innerspring mattresses are the most problematic, for a few reasons. First, their semi-hollow design leaves plenty of room for the dust mites to congregate, and makes it difficult to remove them from the mattress. Second, many innerspring mattresses have pillow tops, adding to the soft, loosely woven material at the top, right where you sleep. Lastly, they’re less than comfortable, especially the older they get.
Latex & Memory Foam Allergy Symptoms
Memory foam mattresses don’t do much to help allergy symptoms either. It is a step up in the fiber department since the mites can’t penetrate the foam, but they sleep hot, meaning you’re likely to keep those unwanted house guests hydrated with your sweat. What’s more, most memory foam mattresses are still encased in a woven cloth cover, which means the mites still have some space to live in.
Latex beds score a bit better on the sweat test, but they’re expensive, and latex itself is an allergen. Besides, both latex beds and memory foam are soft and unsupportive, especially as they flatten out over time.
How Does Purple Do?
The Purple mattress bypasses many of those problems simply by how they’re made. They’re temperature neutral, so you don’t sweat as you sleep. They’re not built with empty space in the middle, reducing the real estate offered to the mites. And our hyper-elastic polymer offers comfortable sleep, in addition to the peace of mind. Even so, there’s still the fabric cover (which is removable and can be washed).
“But I Have a [Insert Name of Absurdly Expensive Mattress Here]!”
It’s at this point we have to start splitting hairs, because nearly every kind of mattress runs into similar problems. The woven fabrics we all use to cover our beds make them more pleasant texture-wise, but it also makes them vulnerable to the tiny invaders. It’s hard to get around this paradox; making a bed entirely mite-proof would require making it a pain in the neck (literally) to sleep on.
This applies to bargain store used mattresses as much to fancy-schmancy beds that can do your math homework for you and transform into Autobots. Whatever mattress you’re using, if it’s too humid where you sleep, then you’re not immune. In other words, there’s no such thing as an allergen-free mattress.
Does It Even Matter?
At this point, you’re probably throwing your hands in the air in frustration. Before you throw in the towel and swear to never sleep again (or, at least, sleep without tissues nearby again), we need to share some science with you. Apparently, this crappy conundrum is something people have studied, and the results are interesting.
Most experts recommend the use of a mattress cover on the bed, often citing brands that fully encase the mattress, some of which cost as much as $350 a piece. But as far as the research is concerned, there’s controversy over whether it even makes a difference.
Apparently, “there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to using dust mite covers to prevent allergic disease or to prevent symptoms,” despite these covers reducing exposure levels by as much as 20%. There’s just no “statistically significant impact” on allergy symptoms.
This may seem like more of a condemnation than good news, but bear with us. See, what it means is that dust mites aren’t the whole picture. Just dealing with the mites isn’t going to solve your whole problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be solved at all. It just means you have to combat your enemy on all fronts at once.
Defending the Sleep Station from Invaders
Beyond the weekly washing we recommended, keep your bedroom as tidy as possible. Be sure your sleeping temperatures are a little lower (so you don’t sweat), and keep humidity levels low. You can even buy a dehumidifier if you need to (we’re looking at you, Florida).
Next, pick up a mattress cover. That will help keep your dead skin from sinking into the mattress, forcing the mites to live on top of it (if they do at all), which you can then strip off and throw in the wash. If you’re not sure which brand to go with, we sell one that’s guaranteed to be the most comfortable cover on the market (while still actually functioning as a mattress protector).
Finally, pick up a pillow that’s comfortable, temperature neutral, and easy to clean (and unfriendly to the mites).
Repelling the Ground Assault
While your bed doesn’t have too big a tendency to gather allergens, your carpet is another story. Between things settling out of the air, people walking, on it, and so forth, it has a tendency to collect a lot of nastiness (anyone who’s shampooed a carpet can attest to this. Talk about non-potable water). So get yourself a quality vacuum, and clean it frequently. If allergies are severe, don’t be afraid to shampoo it once a year or so. It will go a long way toward keeping allergens down.
Taking to the Air
This is often the hardest one, because sometimes the very chemicals we use to clean can be allergens (irony’s not just a river in Egypt—or however that saying goes). We can have allergen sources indoors (chemicals, mold, pet dander, perfumes, yada, yada), and outdoors (pollen, pollution, the rhetoric of your overly political neighbor).
Obviously, there will be times where allergens are more prevalent than others, spring being the obvious example. While a hermetically sealed bunker is your best bet during times like these, not everyone has access to those. So your fallback should be keeping the windows shut, and running some air filtration/purification. Avail yourself of HEPA filters, and change them at least once a month. Also be aware that, depending on the size of your home, you may need multiple purifiers running. Check their room size rating, and add to your arsenal as needed.
S’not Worth the Trouble: Controlling Symptoms
In the end, if you want relief from your symptoms, you need to be ready to throw everything you can at the problem. Allergen avoidance is one leg of a three-legged stool that medical professionals use to combat allergies. The other two are medications (your Benadryls, your Claritins, and your inhalers), and immunotherapy (such as allergy shots). Not everyone’s in dire need of immunotherapy, and you may only need to rely on the medications during spring or when it’s time for bed (so you can sleep without being congested), but attacking your allergies from multiple angles is key if you want to live a (mostly) symptom-free life.
So do yourself a favor: grab a mattress cover, put in some purifiers, take some antihistamines, and get some sleep. After putting up with this problem for so long, you deserve the rest.