Why the festive evergreen makes your nose run and what you can do about it

Some people may experience cold-like symptoms after decorating a real Christmas tree. Many people may chalk up these symptoms to a cold or COVID-19, but the real culprit could be Christmas Tree Syndrome.

Christmas tree syndrome is a range of health problems triggered by allergens found on live Christmas trees. Exposure to live Christmas trees by those with allergies can cause respiratory or skin issues.

The primary symptoms include a stuffy, runny, or itchy nose, as well as irritated, watery eyes, coughing, and wheezing. Asthma may also get worse. Skin symptoms include swelling, redness, and itching.

This is due to the fact that live trees carry microorganisms, including pollen. Pollen is a common outdoor allergen that can enter our homes. Fungi thrive in damp, cold Christmas tree farms.

Mold can be found on live Christmas trees. A single Christmas tree may host over 50 different species of mold. This creates a home for these tiny but potentially harmful organisms. Some of the most common molds found on Christmas trees include Aspergillus and Penicillium.

Researchers have also closely measured the mould counts of rooms that contain live Christmas trees. In the first three days that the tree is inside, the mold spore count measures about 800 per cubic meter. The spore count begins to rise on the fourth day. It eventually reaches 5,000 spores/cubic meter in two weeks.

The warm climate inside increases the production of mold. DimaBerlin/ Shutterstock

Mold thrives in humid, warm, and wet conditions. When the tree is brought inside, the more hospitable environment increases mold production.

When it comes to Christmas tree pollen, pine pollen does not pose a significant problem for allergy sufferers. While they are growing, Christmas trees may come into contact with other allergens that can be brought into the home. In the spring, for example, grass pollen may adhere to the sap of a Christmas Tree. When the tree is brought inside, the liquid dries, and the pollen particles trapped in it are released.

Manage symptoms

Christmas tree syndrome is more common in certain people. Some people with asthma and chronic obstructive lung syndrome (COPD) may be more sensitive to allergens than others. These allergens can also worsen symptoms like coughing and wheezing.

Allergy sufferers are at greater risk. According to research, 7 percent of allergy sufferers reported an increase in symptoms after a tree was placed in the home. Skin conditions (such as itching and contact dermatitis) can also worsen symptoms around Christmas trees.

Christmas tree syndrome can be mitigated by recognizing symptoms early. If you suffer from allergies, you should take the following steps:

Choose your tree with care: Look for trees that have a lower allergenic potential. Fir trees such as Douglas or Fraser are known to produce fewer allergens than spruce or pine.

Check your tree: Perform a thorough inspection for signs or fungi before bringing it indoors. Concentrate on the areas that may have accumulated moisture since damp conditions encourage mold growth. Aspergillus is the most common type of mold that grows on Christmas trees. It will appear black on top and white or yellow beneath.

Maintaining your tree: Water regularly live trees in order to avoid dehydration. A well-hydrated tree will also be less likely to harbor fungus. Since warm, humid environments encourage mold growth, keep your home ventilated when it is up. Consider using a humidifier to reduce the moisture in your house.

Avoid too much direct touch when decorating your tree. Gloves can reduce the risk of skin reactions.

Use artificial trees: Artificial trees are a useful alternative. They are reusable and eliminate allergens.

The Christmas tree syndrome is a problem. By taking into consideration the science and taking precautions, you can have a fun and allergy-free holiday season.

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