It is the sickening secret society sharing your bed -- millions of tiny critters, living just millimetres from your head. A zoo filled with animals, bacteria and mould -- all of it alive, all of it inside your pillow. Sweet dreams -- not likely.
"You get flu like symptoms, eye, nose, throat irritations. What you'd normally find inside a pillow is fungi, as a mould, you would find bacteria, and you would find small animals, like dust mites, sometimes bed bugs", said Dr. Heiki Kemp, a Mycologist.
That means Dr. Kemp knows better than most the impact pillow nasties can have on your health. "It can get really, really severe, if you sleep on a really mouldy pillow, you can get chronic fatigue, skin rashes and other health effects", she said.
Seven million Australians suffer allergies and asthma. heightening the problem is the fact most of us keep our pillows for nearly six years. That's thousands of nights spent lying on dead skin and hair cells, add in litres of sweat and it's the perfect environment for a thriving eco-system.
"Mould can breath like you and me, so when the mould breathes out there is a possibility of micro toxins", Dr. Kemp said.
"Now if you have long term exposure to micro toxins. over time it might suppress your immune system and with an immuno-suppressed system you are open to health effects", she added.
For some, like little Skye Shipton, a pillow full of bugs is a potential killer. While the four-year-old is allergic to eggs, milk, grass, even cats, the most sinister allergen is dust mites.
"Her head is on that pillow for 12 hours a night and that's the majority of the time where a house dust mite effects her, so it's a priority for me", said mum Susie.
Susie strips and cleans Skye's bedding methodically, washing the pillows every six months, the doonas and sheets weekly.
"It's really scary, anyone with asthma knows the terror if your child can't breath and you think their throats starting to swell up", Susie said.
But now Susie has a new weapon in her arsenal -- pillows stamped with a world first idea, use-by-dates.
"It's like changing over your toothbrush, it's just something you need to do in a general hygiene perspective to make sure that you know you're sleeping in a nice, fresh environment", said Holly Kramer from Tontine, Australia's largest pillow manufacturer.
Tontine is the first to put an expiry date on its product and Holly says, "The vast majority of pillows in Australia are synthetic fibre pillows and for those pillows two years is really a general recommendation".
Use-by-dates for other fill types like latex, memory foam and feather and down will be introduced shortly. While Tontine's move could be seen as a marketing masterstroke, it has the potential to make life easier for those with serious allergies.
"We sleep for about a third of our lives -- oils and skin cells and all sorts of things collect in the pillow germs and bacteria, so really from a health perspective it's just a good idea", Holly added.
Of course, there are plenty of other things we can do to improve the cleanliness and longevity of our pillows.
At least once a month, Dr Kemp recommends you thoroughly vacuum your pillow and mattress..
"When you do your Hepa vacuuming it's very important it has an actual Hepa filter, a hepa filter is made to catch 99.9% of particulates like the dust mites and mould spores", she said.
And as well as regular washing, daily airing is a simple and cheap way to reduce allergy causing bugs.
"Think about what our grannies did and air those pillows out, expose them to sunlight and ventilation and then it is much more clean and healthy for you", Dr. Kemp added.