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Are You Allergic to Your Christmas Tree?

December 23, 2023

Are the holidays bringing sentimental tears to your eyes? Hold that tissue. It might be your tree. “There is a phenomenon called Christmas Tree Syndrome,” says Philip Howard Hemmers, DO, an allergy specialist with St. Vincent's Medical Center. “It’s where allergy symptoms are triggered by either an alive or artificial Christmas tree.” Before you turn into a total Grinch, there are ways to enjoy your tree and ward off the sniffles. Grab a hot cocoa and cozy up for a few simple tips. [insert-cta-small id=43342]

What exactly is Christmas Tree Syndrome?

“If you are feeling well before bringing your tree into your house and start coughing, sneezing, or experiencing typical hay fever symptoms, that's a very good sign you may be experiencing Christmas Tree Syndrome,” explains Dr. Hemmers. But, what if it’s a seasonal bug? “Since this time of year brings colds or the flu, it may take a few days to distinguish what's going on,” answers Dr. Hemmers. “While it may just be nuisance symptoms like a runny nose or itchy/watery eyes for some, it could be more intense for others. For people with the most severe problems, it could be asthma, coughing, wheezing or chest tightness.” > Related: 3 Tips to Make Your Christmas Cookies a Little Healthier

O Christmas tree, how lovely are your (moldy) branches?

Mold is a big trigger for Christmas Tree Syndrome. Most live trees already have mold, but things dial-up in your living room. “When you bring the tree inside in a nice, warm, and potentially humid environment, that mold will start to multiply,” explains Dr. Hemmers. Dr. Hemmers knows better than anyone how high those mold levels go, as co-author of a recent Christmas Tree Syndrome study. “We would check the levels once a day,” says Dr. Hemmers. “Over the course of a few weeks, the numbers went from a normal range, which is the same as outdoor mold and nothing that would cause a problem, and it would grow to be five or ten times – or even 20 times higher – over the course of the month. The longer you have the tree in the house, the more mold there will be.” > Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Even artificial Christmas trees can make you sneeze.

Say what? “This has more to do with dust and storage,” explains Dr. Hemmers. “Artificial trees are stored in the basement or attic in the offseason.” This collected dust roams free once you set up your tree, triggering all the traditional allergy ailments.

Regular allergy sufferers are most at-risk.

“If you already have allergies, you may be at higher risk for Christmas Tree Syndrome,” explains Dr. Hemmers. “And if you have a dust mite allergy or mold allergy, you may be hit the hardest.” See your allergy specialist if you’re unsure about any allergies. A simple 20-minute skin test can give you answers and solutions.

5 ways to keep the festive cheer alive and allergies away.

“The best thing for Christmas Tree Syndrome is prevention,” says Dr. Hemmers. “Rather than taking antihistamines or inhalers, you want to try to prevent symptoms.” He offers five simple tips:
  1. Wash or hose down your live tree before bringing it into the house.
  2. Shake out and clean your artificial tree before setting it up.
  3. Put an air purifier (with a HEPA and charcoal filter) in the same room as your tree.
  4. Include a dehumidifier in the room, too.
  5. Store your artificial tree in an airtight storage container for next year.
And the ultimate tip? “One of the best ways to lessen your Christmas Tree Syndrome symptoms is to keep your tree in the house for less time,” says Dr. Hemmers. “When the holiday ends, get rid of the tree.”