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memory foam unhealthy?

Posted by bad back and allergic on November 09, 2001 at 15:19:17:

Dear Sandman,
I just stumbled across your website. I am considering purchasing a memory foam mattress and found the discussions very useful. I have some other questions/concerns, however, which were not discussed.
I am concerned about moisture, heat, off-gassing and allergies. Everyone agrees that when we sleep we perspire quite a bit. In a humid climate, such as mine in Washington, D.C., we probably perspire even more than average. Also, women in menopause have hot flashes. Where does this moisture go when there is no mattress pad or topper to absorb it? This seems to be a serious problem with memory foam mattresses. In fact, in one letter I read about memory foam (on a different web site), the writer said that her mattress stunk after sleeping on it for a few months and she suspected that it was the moisture being absorbed into the mattress and festering there. (This was different from other complaints I've read that they smell for the first few weeks, probably because they are newly unpacked and releasing vapors--see below).
One of the mattresses I looked at (in the Healthy Back Store) actually had a built-in wool layer on top. The sales rep said it helped simulate the feel of "normal" mattresses and absorbed some body perspiration. But at the same time, I was cautioned that buying the plain temperpedic mattress and adding my own wool topper would be a bad idea because it would interfere with the functioning of the memory foam. So this confuses me quite a bit.
The idea of a topper, built-in or otherwise, is appealing to me because of the heat problem, too. I've read that these mattresses really hold the heat. Why is that? It gets very hot here in Washington in the summer and I do not use AC. So this is a big concern. Would buying a bed with a layer of wool on top, or adding a wool mattress pad, help protect me from the hot mattress?
Another concern of mine is off-gassing. I have read about this on one site only--a site dealing with allergies. Many products emit vapors from chemicals used in their manufacture. They are called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Latex is a natural product with low to no VOCs, but apparently memory foam has a serious VOC problem, at least according to the allergy web site. Do you know anything about this?
Also, on the allergy question, are you aware of any problems regarding allergic reactions to memory foam, either due to VOCs or otherwise? Again, latex is a common bedding material for people with allergies because it is hypo-allergenic and does not support dust mite growth or mold. What about memory foam?
If, after all is said and done, memory foam mattresses are not the answer for me--bad back AND allergies--are there any mattresses you can recommend? Some "natural" home products catalogs offer a bed built out of layers: first, a wool mattress pad, then a latex mattress, then "floating" and adjustable wood slats on top of a wooden frame. It's hard (bad pun) for me to imagine that wooden slats would be comfortable, but who knows?
All help you can offer is deeply appreciated.

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