It’s unlikely that you are allergic to the tree itself, but the fragrance may be irritating. Some trees may also be home to microscopic mold spores that trigger asthma or allergies, causing symptoms like sneezing or an itchy nose.
A study performed at SUNY Upstate Medical University found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 53 different types of mold. Most molds that were identified are potential allergens and have been shown to increase the risk of wheeze, persistent cough, and allergic sensitization in infants.
A previous study conducted in 2007, found that a Christmas tree could increase the number of mold spores in an apartment by about 6 times. The researchers found that mold counts in the air grew continued to grow while the tree was in the room, and did not drop down back down to normal levels until it was taken down.
Other potential sources for allergen exposure are Christmas ornaments and lights that have been contaminated with dust, including dust mites, or mold. Pests can inhabit your live tree or artificial Christmas tree storage space and leave droppings that aggravate allergies. Terpenes are chemical compounds known for giving pine trees their natural scent and can also cause irritation in some individuals.
Here are some tips to help decrease allergen exposure from Christmas trees:
• Shake as much debris as possible out of the tree before bringing it inside.
• Rinse off the tree with a hose and sprayer, and then leave the tree somewhere warm to dry for a couple of days before bringing it into the house. Using an air compressor to blow off debris might be an excellent alternative to avoid having to dry the tree out afterward.
• Spray foliage with a mixture of water and a small amount of bleach. The bleach-water solution kills growing mold spores while washing away any leftover grime. It will not harm the tree. However, avoid taking this step if you have pets in your home because they may accidentally ingest this solution by gnawing on the tree.
• Lessen the scent of terpenes from a live tree by spraying a bleach and water solution on the foliage and branches. Make sure to use gloves when handling and setting up your live tree to avoid coming into contact with terpenes.
• Mold accumulates the longer your live tree stays inside your home. Consider taking it out immediately once Christmas Day is over.
• Avoid live trees. Purchase an artificial tree. (Artificial Christmas trees that have been improperly stored can accumulate significant amounts of dust and mold spores. In addition, some of the materials used to manufacture artificial Christmas trees could cause sinus irritation for those who are especially sensitive.)
• Clean dust from artificial Christmas trees and other holiday decorations before displaying. Remember that glass, metal and plastic decorations are easier to keep dust-free than soft fabric ones.
• For artificial Christmas trees, 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.
• Wear a mask when bringing stuff out of storage.
Dr. Kelli Rose
Allergy Partners of California Central Coast