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How Should You Deal with Christmas Tree Allergies?

An estimated 77 percent of American households celebrate the winter holidays by bringing a Christmas tree into their homes. In this day and age, the vast majority of those trees are artificial, while only 19 percent of families decide to go with a natural Christmas tree.

Even if you don’t have a Christmas tree in your home, the popularity of Christmas trees is such that it is going to be rather tricky to avoid being exposed to them altogether. Whether in the home of a relative or friend, or while frequenting one of the countless commercial ventures that also want to soak in that holiday spirit, Christmas trees are everywhere. As people seem to put their trees up earlier and earlier, you’ll start to encounter them even in November.

For allergy sufferers, Christmas trees can become a true nightmare — and anyone who hasn’t experienced allergy symptoms while spending time around Christmas trees may be surprised that that can be true for artificial Christmas trees as well as natural ones.

What are the root causes of a Christmas tree allergy, how do you know if you are allergic to a substance related to your Christmas tree, and what steps can you take to eliminate, or at the very least reduce, those nasty allergy symptoms?

What Are the Symptoms of a Christmas Tree Allergy?

All airborne allergies share the same symptoms, although some people only suffer mild discomfort, while others have to deal with debilitating symptoms that interfere with their daily activities. The core allergy symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion, a runny nose, and frequent sneezing.
  • Red, swollen, and itchy eyes.
  • A dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Skin rashes that may appear almost anywhere on the body.
  • An overwhelming sense of fatigue, along with possible headaches.

The fact that many people who suffer from one type of airborne allergy will also be sensitive to other airborne particles can make figuring out the cause of these symptoms a challenge, however. You may reasonably suspect that something about your Christmas tree is triggering your allergy symptoms if you only begin sniffling and wheezing when you’re close to the tree. Try to eliminate the possibility that something else you brought into your home for the holidays, like a wreath or dusty decorations, could be the culprit as well, though.

At this point, it is important to note that the term “Christmas tree allergy” is a misnomer. Although it is possible, few people are allergic to Christmas trees themselves. Rather, these trees can harbor numerous different allergens that ultimately lead to symptoms.

What Causes a Christmas Tree Allergy?

It is true that many people are allergic to tree pollen (including the kind produced by various types of pine trees), but if you are one of them, you are probably already aware that pine trees pollinate much earlier in the year, during springtime. If you start sneezing and itching around Christmas trees, another allergen — or a combination of different allergens — is much more likely to be responsible. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of Christmas tree allergies, as they pertain to natural Christmas trees as well as artificial Christmas trees:

  • Dust mites. Around 10 percent of the global population is allergic to dust mites, and dust easily builds up on the rough surface and around the needles of artificial and natural Christmas trees. Artificial Christmas trees may pose a higher risk in this case, as many people store these in dusty attics or spare rooms year-round, without cleaning them. Retrieving your tree from storage would, then, immediately trigger allergy symptoms.
  • Weed pollen. Unlike pine trees themselves, many weeds start producing pollen just before the holiday season starts. This pollen can then build up on your natural tree, leading to allergies.
  • Tree sap and other compounds found in natural Christmas trees. Pine trees, including Christmas trees, emit chemicals called pinenes and terpenes — which produce that characteristic “holiday smell” many people are so fond of, but which can also cause allergic reactions. The tree sap that seeps from Christmas trees can also cause allergies, but in this case, physical contact produces skin irritation.

The pesticides used to safeguard natural Christmas trees as they grow, and the fake snow some people add to both natural and artificial Christmas trees, can also be potent irritants. Although the reaction you might have to these compounds is not, in fact, an allergy, the symptoms can be so similar that it is hard to tell the difference.

Mold Growth: One of the Biggest Causes of Christmas Tree Allergies?

Molds — filament-producing fungi — are all around us. In nature, molds play an important role in breaking down decaying plant matter and other organic substances, but when mold is present in your home, the spores produced in the process can lead to both short-term discomfort and long-term health complications.

If you, or someone else in your household, has developed allergy symptoms after you put your Christmas tree up, mold growth is one of the most likely causes. Research has identified 34 different allergenic mold species on natural Christmas trees, because mold easily accumulates within the damp crevices of evergreen trees. Not everyone will react to allergenic molds equally strongly, and some people will not suffer symptoms at all. If you already have a mold allergy, on the other hand, even lower concentrations of mold spores will cause a reaction.

Even people who have taken the commonly-offered advice to get an artificial Christmas tree to heart may still, however, suffer from mold allergy symptoms! Do you, like so many others, reuse the same artificial Christmas tree year after year? Do you diligently store that Christmas tree out of sight once the holiday season passes? Of course you do — and your attic, basement, or garage are the most convenient storage places.

These exact same locations within your home also happen to be the most likely to be damp and humid. Mold, which requires high humidity levels to thrive, can easily accumulate on the surfaces of your artificial tree all year round. When the holiday season comes around again, your artificial Christmas tree will inevitably cause respiratory irritation.

What Can You Do to Reduce Christmas Tree Allergy Symptoms?

Are you committed to celebrating the holidays in style, with a beautifully-decorated artificial or natural Christmas tree, despite the fact that you have suffered from allergy symptoms in the past? By taking some simple but often overlooked steps, you can at least alleviate your allergies a little:

  • Shake your Christmas tree out. Most people, knowing that dust can build up within a Christmas tree’s crevices, at least shake it out before decorating the tree. It is optimal if you can do this outside, so that the resulting dust and mold spores are not released into your indoor air, to later potentially settle on other surfaces.
  • Rinse your Christmas tree. Afraid that their tree will break, few people take this step — but if you are careful, you can successfully hose your natural or artificial Christmas tree down. In the case of a natural tree, rinsing it is going to remove significant amounts of mold and dust, but also pesticides and weed pollen. If you have an artificial Christmas tree, cleaning it thoroughly eliminates a year-long build up of dust, dust mites, pet dander, and mold.
  • Dry your Christmas tree. Unless you also add this step, your tree could remain humid, allowing mold to build up again and attracting dust in the process. Natural trees can be air dried or dried with a leaf blower. Artificial trees can gently be patted dry with a clean towel, or you could use the blow function on your vacuum cleaner. Do this outdoors.
  • If you have a natural Christmas tree, refresh the water. Mold proliferates in damp conditions and on decaying plant matter most easily. If you have a natural tree, it is crucial to change the water every few days.
  • Install a HEPA air purifier. These air purifiers effectively filter over 99 percent of airborne particles, including dust and mold spores. Having a HEPA air purifier designed to meet the needs of the space where you keep your Christmas tree will greatly reduce allergy symptoms.

You could also, of course, opt to usher the holiday period in with decorations that are easier to clean — and decide not to have a Christmas tree at all. This step could help you determine whether the Christmas tree you had during previous years was indeed a cause of your allergy symptoms, or if something else might be going on.

Do You Have a Mold Infestation in Your Home?

Do you use an artificial Christmas tree in your household, like most Americans do? The sudden onset of so-called “Christmas tree” or “holiday” allergy symptoms after you get your Christmas tree out of storage could, in fact, offer you an important clue that you may have a wider mold infestation in your home. Perhaps excessively damp conditions in the basement have allowed mold to grow, or perhaps your roof has been leaking in hidden spots for a while already.

When you return to the area where you store your Christmas tree, do you perhaps see or smell mold? Because mold infestations can, over time, cause significant health complications, it is crucial to get the full picture and have a mold inspection carried out in your property. MI&T is an independent and nationwide mold inspection only company. Not only do we know that not all molds are a threat to human health, we have no vested interest when our independent mold inspections come into your property.

MI&T’s in-depth visual mold inspections can uncover mold in places homeowners would not have known to investigate, while the air samples we take are promptly delivered to an independent lab, where they are tested for the presence of a variety of harmful molds. Once you have your full mold inspection report, you will know precisely what is required to remediate the mold problem. For full peace of mind, you can call MI&T again for clearance testing after your remediation is complete.

Sometimes, the fact that your artificial Christmas tree causes allergy symptoms is a blessing in disguise, as it alerts you to the presence of a problem you can then tackle.