"I've seen people with pillows that were loaded with microorganisms," NYU microbiologist Dr. Philip Tierno told The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen.
Tierno says as pillows absorb germs from our skin and the air, they become a breeding ground for mold, bacteria and dust mites.
"It's a literal zoo," he said.
And the older your pillows, the more likely they're contaminated. The Bass family hasn't replaced their pillows in eight years. Experts say you should replace your pillows every two years, but that can be costly. Instead, buy pillow protectors that usually cost between $10 and $20.
"It just makes me sick, it makes me feel dirty," Bass said.
Tierno tested the Bass family pillows and inside the children's' pillows he found fungal mold. Tierno says this is what they're inhaling every time their heads hit the pillow, which cold be playing a role in allergies.
On the parents' pillows he found lots of bacteria.
"I would say from this, all of them have dust mites," Tierno said.
When the Bass family heard the results, they were not pleased.
"I think it's disgusting that I actually slept on it," daughter Melanie said.
"I just feel nauseous," Ellen Bass said. "I've taken her to allergists and doctors for her allergies, and all this stuff in the meantime is growing in her pillow that she's sleeping on."
Covers are very effective at preventing contact with mold and bacteria, Tierno, said.
"What's out the pillow can't get into the pillow, what's in the pillow can't get out of the pillow in your face," he said.
Koeppen gave the Basses brand new pillows with protectors to help them breath easier.
"To see those Petri dishes, and my kids are breathing that in every day," Bass said, "it's really an eye-opener."
For more information:
National Institutes of Health