Spreading holiday cheer by sneezing, coughing and wheezing this season? You could be allergic to your Christmas tree. About 7 percent of the nation’s population suffers from Christmas tree allergies alone. This isn’t accounting for dust, mold and other common holiday allergens that put nearly 50 million of the nation’s allergy sufferers at risk. And, for most families whose celebrations revolve around the traditional décor, this could mean putting your loved ones at risk.
Luckily, there are ways to fill your Christmas with joyful noise and not incessant sneezing. Here are a few ways to ensure your most unwanted gift is as dangerous as the hand-knit socks from grandma.
Christmas Tree Allergies: What Are They?
Pine trees carry two main allergens: pine nuts and pine pollen.
Pine pollen is produced when this family of trees reproduces in the springtime. In most cases, sufferers from this allergen are also effected by grass pollen.
Pine nuts are edible seeds used in a variety of food dishes, commonly found in Mediterranean dishes and Italian pesto. Similar to tree nut allergies, the reactions can cause mild to severe reactions for suffers such as anaphylaxis.
The most commonly reported reaction to this type of exposure are respiratory issues associated with indoor allergies. So, unless your vegan diet requires chowing down on a pine cone or two, typical airborne exposure won’t kill you.
Good news? Experts say pine pollen allergies are highly uncommon. Bad news? By bringing a live tree indoors, you’ve also created the perfect habitat for mold spores.
Christmas Tree Allergies: The Main Trigger
Christmas Tree Syndrome might sound like some sort of post-holiday blues. In reality, it is the allergic reactions triggered by breathing in spores from the mold growing on pine trees.
Researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 50 types of mold. Of these, nearly two-thirds were part of the allergen families known to cause hayfever-like symptoms.
These microscopic allergens thrive on the branches of Christmas trees. Meaning, more often than not you’re the proud owner of a less-than-favorable package deal. And, most homeowners are unintentionally creating the perfect environment for these spores to thrive.
Mold in general flourishes in damp, warm areas and is typically seen in basements or bathrooms. The holiday season falls during the cold, winter months. Most homeowners will take this as an opportunity to cozy up by a warm fire. Unfortunately, the combination of your warm indoor environment and water surrounding the tree is also a cozy environment for these allergens.
Christmas tree syndrome can cause wheezing, coughing, itchy nose, watery eyes, fatigue and problems sleeping — triggered by breathing in spores from the mold growing on Christmas trees.
And, a more recent study by a researchers in Connecticut found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to five times the normal level two weeks after the tree was brought indoors.
Christmas Tree Allergies: Tips for Real Trees
Luckily, you don’t have to toss out your Christmas tree just yet. Experts say there are certain steps to dampen the risk of mold exposure during your holiday season.
The most important measure for those with mold sensitivities is to only keep the tree up for a maximum of four-to-seven days. When conducting the initial study, researchers found that mold counts in the air continued to grow while the tree was in the room. Only when the trees were taken down did the levels drop back down to normal.
If purchasing your tree at a farm or lot, they may have a mechanical tree shaker. These help eliminate exposure by removing the dead needles as well as some of the mold. While you’re there, ask if they carry an allergy-friendly tree. The Leyland Cypress tree is not actually in the pine or fir family and does not produce pollen.
Prior to putting up the tree, spray it off with water and let it dry overnight in the garage. This will remove some of the loose mold and pollen that is on the tree. Allow the tree to dry thoroughly before bringing indoors.
Or, if it becomes too unbearable, move the tree outdoors. Try setting the tree up on your porch or in front of a large window. Views are typically more pleasant when they are not through swollen, watery eyes.
Christmas Tree Allergies: Tips for Alternative Decor
If all else fails, go with an artificial tree.
Although probably the best option for those with these types of allergies, these could also come with their own list of issues.
It boils down to time and place. For example, let’s say for the past year your tree lived among a clutter of boxes in an attic or basement. This means it also found time to start a collection of dust and/or mold. Prior to decorating, make sure to wipe them down with a dust cloth, or take them outside and hose them off if they are not pre-lit.
In addition, some of the materials used to manufacture artificial trees contain chemicals that cause sinus irritation for those sensitive. The most common chemical, PVC causes dermatitis for those allergic to synthetic plastics. If the tree is older, you could run the risk of lead contamination. Instead, invest in a new artificial tree made with a less-harmful chemical, molded polyethylene (PE).
Or, get crafty with an eco-friendly alternative tree. Use unclaimed wood to make a rustic wood tree, a ladder for hanging ornaments or sheets of birch plywood for a more modern approach. For do-it-yourself ideas, check out popular sites such as Pinterest. Or, visit Etsy to purchase an already made alternative option.
Christmas Tree Allergies: Our Final Thoughts
With a bounty of allergy-free options, there’s plenty of ways to celebrate the holidays without the mess of sap and fallen needles.
Even if you don’t suffer from these types of issues around Christmas trees, doesn’t mean you are free to cut corners. Especially if you’re planning on opening your home to family and friends this season.
It’s always important to visit a local allergist, especially if you suspect you could be among those who suffer from allergies or asthma. Do you, or someone you know suffer from allergies or asthma related to Christmas trees? Feel free to leave any tips in the comment section below!