Home away from home for those with allergies
Hotels offer 'allergen-free' rooms for a price. Do they help?
A PURE pillow encasement in a "Respire" hypo-allergenic room on the fourth floor at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The PURE encasement is designed to protect you from dust mite allergens. There are 66 "Respire" rooms in the hotel. (Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune)
The Hyatt, Wyndham, Intercontinental, Fairmont and Mandarin hotel chains — among others — are experimenting with everything from small tweaks in bedding and air-purification systems to complete room remodels to help allergy sufferers have a symptom-free stay.
Many Hyatt Regency hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms, which the chain claims are 98 percent allergen-free.
The air is circulated up to five times an hour in these rooms, the mattresses and pillows are encased in a protective hypoallergenic covering, the carpet and upholstery are cleaned and protected with Pure Clean and Pure Shield anti-allergen products, and tea tree oil is installed in the air-handling unit, said Lori Alexander, spokeswoman for Hyatt.
Guests who want to stay in Hyatt's hypoallergenic rooms are charged $20 to $30 extra per night, depending on the hotel's location.
For those with allergies, a hotel room can trigger a swarm of reactions, said Philip Tierno Jr., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University.
The hotel's mattress, pillow, rug, drapery and upholstered furniture can all easily collect dust, mites and bodily secretions — all of which are the bane of allergy sufferers, Tierno said.
"Unless a hotel has impervious covers on their mattresses and pillows, they're contributing to allergies and exacerbating them," Tierno said. "Even if you don't have allergies now, you can develop them over time. You don't need to be breathing in this garbage from mattresses and pillows."
But before someone with allergies pays extra for a hypoallergenic room, they should see exactly what the hotels are offering, said Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and allergist with the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic.
Filtering the air and circulating it frequently is helpful, as is covering the mattresses with mite-proof allergenic casing. But tea tree oil? Fineman said he has never heard of that helping with allergies.
"I have patients who complain about the reactions they get from sleeping in some hotel rooms, so for some people with allergies, it may be worth it to pay the premium to sleep in a room that's prepared that way," Fineman said. "This might be a benefit for certain patients."
What's the length of stay for most hotel furnishings?
Hotels aren't required to toss their mattresses, pillows, curtains and other furnishings after a certain amount of time, but these items can become allergy triggers if they're not cleaned and replaced regularly.
No organizations track turnover time for hotel furniture, bedding and bathroom items, so we asked some of the biggest hotel chains to tell us how often they swap their goods.
Unfortunately, Marriott International, Hilton Hotels, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Best Western International, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts either declined to comment or ignored our multiple requests for that information.
But the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts gave us details:
•Mattress: 7-10 years
•Shower curtains: as needed
•Window curtains: 7-10 years
•Towels and robes: as needed
•Carpets: 5-7 years
•Bedspreads and duvets: 3-5 years
•Shams and pillows: as needed