With the never-ending quest to unearth the perfect bed that will offer the ultimate in restful sleep night after night, many people are turning to feather beds. Feather beds add a heavenly, cushioned layer that, when placed on top of a firm quality mattress, provide a nearly ideal sleeping experience--that is, if you do not have an allergy to feather beds. Unfortunately, many sleepers who are eager to sink into their new downy mattress topper soon find out they may be allergic to that little piece of heaven.
Typically feather beds are filled with goose or duck feathers or down (small fine feathers). Some feather beds are made with a combination of feathers and down. Feather beds are generally around 4 inches thick and stitched with channels or a baffle-box design to allow for maximum thickness. Occasionally you may find a feather bed that has no stitching, with the feathers free-flowing within the cover. The feathers or down can be an allergen for some people.
A feather bed is meant to be placed on top of the existing mattress for extra comfort and cushioning. The firmness of the underlying mattress is retained as the feather bed gives soft, all-over support while relieving the pressure points of the body, such as the shoulders and hips. Down is naturally an excellent insulator which effectively traps heat while still allowing for air circulation, keeping the sleeper's muscles relaxed and body temperature maintained. It may not be initially apparent when a person has an allergy to feather beds, but they may develop an allergic reaction after continual contact with the mattress topper.
The familiar symptoms of allergies--runny or stuffy nose; itchy, watery eyes; and sneezing--are the body's reaction to perceived foreign substances. An allergic person develops specific types of antibodies known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to a normally harmless substance. In addition to the common allergy symptoms, people who are allergic to down feathers may also experience itchy skin and respiratory distress with asthma-like symptoms. A severe allergy to down feathers could lead to an acute asthma attack in which air flow to the lungs becomes restricted. A person may not be aware of an allergy to feathers prior to sleeping on a feather bed.
Dust mites are microscopic creatures that make their nests in bedding and pillows. They eat dead skin cells, animal dander, fungi, pollen and bacteria, which are the same things found in household dust. Dust mites are harmless and they do not bite or carry diseases. Unfortunately, for approximately 10 per cent of Americans, dust mites and their faeces cause allergic reactions, ranging from itchy eyes and a runny nose to full-blown asthma. To control your household dust mite population, wash bedding and pillows on a regular basis in hot water (25.0 to 54.4 degrees C) and vacuum mattresses and around the base of the bed. Most feather beds are not washable and can become a dust-mite haven if not taken in for the occasional dry-cleaning. It may not be an allergy to feather beds for some sleepers, but rather an allergy to those tens of thousands of dust-mite bed mates.
Of course the most obvious solution to preventing the development of an allergy to feather beds is to avoid them altogether, along with down pillows and comforters. You can opt for a faux-feather bed or synthetic fibre-filled mattress topper. Allergy- and dust mite-proof covers are available into which a feather bed can be inserted. The covers are washable and are also available for pillows and entire mattresses for those who are serious about dust-mite control.