Nafstad, P. et. al. (2002)

The use of a feather quilt, childhood asthma and allergic rhinitis: a prospective cohort study.

Nafstad P, Nystad W, Jaakkola JJ.
Clin Exp Allergy. 2002 Aug;32(8):1150-4.

For a long time now feather pillows and beds have been associated with a negative reputation that they are a potential source of allergies. Consequently, potential allergy sufferers have always been advised to avoid bedding made of feathers and down. However, more recent studies show that synthetic bedding, in particular, exhibits higher concentrations of certain allergens than feather pillows. Against this background, the scientific basis for a recommendation in favour of synthetic bedding is rather shaky.

Study design:
In this cohort study of 3754 children in Oslo, aged between birth and four years, the relationship between beds made of feather and down and beds using synthetic or other filling materials were examined on the basis of symptoms of bronchial obstruction, asthma and allergic rhinitis. After 6, 12, 18 and 24 months and again after four years the parents were sent a questionnaire about the use of feather beds versus other forms of bedding.

The risk of developing bronchial obstructions in the first two years of life and asthma and allergic rhinitis up to the age of four years was lower for the group of users with feather beds than for users of other bedding. Children who had only slept with feather and down bedding during the first two years of their life were at least risk of suffering from the symptoms described. The second-lowest symptom score was among children who had at least used a feather bed for part of the time and the highest score was recorded for those children who had always slept in beds without any feathers and down.
In conclusion, the risk of bronchial obstructions, asthma and allergic rhinitis is negatively associated with the use in the early years of life of bedding made of feathers and down.

The study is particularly interesting, because a large cohort (3754 children) were examined for a fairly long period. Furthermore, additional information about the parents was obtained: lifestyle habits of the parents (atopy status, smoking habits), age of the mother at birth, period during which the baby was breast fed and the social environment (social status, income) of the parents.
The result supports the thesis that feather and down beds make for healthy, comfortable sleeping and cannot be held responsible for the manifestation of allergies and asthma during childhood.