December 7, 2017

Christmas Tree Allergy

It is the season to be jolly. While bringing home a live Christmas tree marks the beginning of the holiday season for many, for some that suffer with allergies, joy and happiness may be associated with some degree of misery. Incessant sneezing is no way to spend the holidays. Live Christmas trees can cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals who may be sensitive to the mold and dust often found in branches and foliage. A recent report from a group of allergists in Connecticut found that mold allergies peak in the fall, but that a second peak was seen in their mold-sensitive patients during the holiday season. It appeared that this second peak of mold sensitivity was due to Christmas trees providing an additional potential source of mold exposure during the holiday season. In fact the researchers found that the mold count within a home from a live Christmas tree rose to five times the normal level two weeks after the tree was brought indoors! High levels of mold spores have been correlated with increased symptoms due to allergic rhinitis (nasal congestion, discharge and sneeze) and asthma (shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheeze and cough) including higher rates of asthma-related hospitalization. A 2011 study performed by staff at the SUNY Upstate Medical Center found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 50 types of mold, two thirds of which could cause hay-fever like symptoms. Virtually invisible to the naked eye, molds thrive where there is moisture. The spores latch themselves to real Christmas trees due to the moisture build up on their leaves and branches. Other known causes of Christmas tree related symptoms are tree sap, pollen, which is scattered in the air during the fall season, and terpenes, a compound that gives pine trees their characteristic natural scent. Chemicals used at Christmas tree farms may also cause skin and eye irritation. So if you don’t feel well during the holidays, consider the Christmas tree as a possible source of allergies and irritants.


Like many other forms of irritation, Christmas tree-related allergies can be prevented through thoughtful preparation. Allergy sufferers who are especially sensitive to mold, pollen, and terpenes should typically avoid using fresh trees, boughs, and wreaths and consider switching to an artificial Christmas tree instead. If you are susceptible to allergies but still would like a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, remember to thoroughly shake the live Christmas tree outdoors to eliminate the dust particles, pollen and other debris it may be carrying before bringing it indoors. Here are a few more steps to consider. Before bringing your live tree inside your home, thoroughly hose it down and leave it out under the sun to dry. You can also use a leaf blower or an air compressor to blow off debris. This is an excellent alternative to avoid having to dry the tree out afterward to make sure that every part of the tree is dry; mold often thrives in damp spots. This will also help rid the tree of pollen. Another way to eliminate mold is by spraying the fresh foliage with a mixture of water and a small amount of bleach. The bleach-water solution kills the mold spores and it will not harm the tree. However, avoid this step if you have pets in your home because they may accidentally ingest this solution by chewing the tree. Mold will accumulate the longer your live tree stays inside your home. Consider taking it out immediately once Christmas Day is over. The water-bleach spray will also help reduce the scent of terpenes from a live tree. Make sure to use gloves when handling and setting up your live tree to avoid coming into contact with terpenes. Although an artificial tree may be a better option for people with mold allergies, it carries its own set of problems. Artificial Christmas trees that have been improperly stored can accumulate a significant amount of dust, mold spores, and other irritating particulates. In addition, some of the materials used to manufacture artificial Christmas trees could cause sinus irritation for those who are especially sensitive. This means that, regardless of what type of tree you buy, it would be advisable to clean the tree off using one of the methods described above, before bringing it in. If you have an artificial Christmas tree, after the holiday season, store your tree properly in a dry, cool space. Placing the tree sections in a box, tree storage bag, or sealed plastic bags will keep dust from accumulating on your tree while it is in storage. Plastic containers for the tree and the ornaments are preferred over cardboard boxes as the latter can be a source of mold growth. Ideally you should check your artificial tree by taking it out of storage every 4 to 6 months to make sure that insects or rodents have not found a way to break through storage barriers. To keep the foliage clean and dust-free and maintain the quality of the color and texture, simply wipe the needles and branches with a soft, dry cloth before you decorate.

Having a Christmas tree allergy does not mean that you can’t enjoy the season just like everybody else. Although most allergic reactions tend to be unpleasant, they are generally not life-threatening. Of course there are other potentially dangerous allergens to consider during the holiday season. Those with food allergies, for example to nuts and shellfish, need to be extra vigilant at holiday parties. However, with proper thought and preparation, and a dose of wariness, there is no reason one cannot enjoy this holiday season to the fullest.