December 10, 2021

Am I Allergic to My Christmas Tree?

It’s that time of year again! The holidays are right around the corner and you're probably getting ready to decorate your home with Christmas trees, wreaths and don’t forget the mistletoe! But before you bring your tree inside, there's a few things you need to know.

Believe it or not, “Am I allergic to my Christmas tree?” is a common question we hear from our patients this time of year.

It all starts with a stuffy nose or congestion when you bring the tree inside, or more frequent use of an asthma inhaler. But there’s also the undeniable itchy, red rash that can appear just after putting your decorations on the tree. Believe it or not, Christmas Tree Syndrome is a real thing.

What is Christmas Tree Syndrome?

While this condition may sound like a myth, it’s a real thing. Those who find their allergies worsening around the December holidays might actually be allergic to Christmas trees.

Christmas Tree Syndrome is caused by the sap called, colophony or rosin, on the Christmas tree. This can cause a skin reaction like a rash and can develop a day or two after touching the tree similar to a rash you would get from poison ivy.

Additionally, if you have sensitive skin, coming into contact with the needles could cause red, itchy patches on the skin as well.

So can you be allergic to Christmas tree pollen?

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Christmas tree pollen (pine, fir, and spruce trees) allergies are fairly uncommon. It’s more likely that your symptoms are increasing due to the mold, dust, or pollen stuck on the tree.

It’s also possible for terpenes (chemical compounds) that are responsible for the unmistakable fir and pine scent of a Christmas tree to be the cause of your allergic reactions as well. Experts say those reactions may be worse when the trees are placed inside homes rather than outside them because indoor air tends to be drier and more stagnant than outdoor air — and therefore less able to clear out allergens as efficiently.

So what’s causing your allergies?

  • Mold growing on the Christmas tree is most likely causing your sneezing, itchy watery eyes and trouble breathing. Studies have found that more than 50 kinds of mold can be found on Christmas trees. 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. Additionally, a 2007 study found that a Christmas tree could increase the number of mold spores in an apartment by about 6 and a half times.

  • Dust Mites are one of the most common triggers for respiratory allergies. Dust particles are everywhere during the holidays — from the tree, to ornaments, and all the other fun Christmas decorations. If you’re bringing your Christmas tree out of storage, it’s likely that the interior of that box has been collecting dust and other allergies since last January. If you’re not careful about how you handle your tree and decorations, you could end up with a really irritated throat, nose and eyes or even an asthma attack. 
  • Insect Droppings can also be an issue for your allergies. Pests, like rodents and cockroaches can leave droppings in your christmas storage, and on both live and artificial trees. These droppings can trigger allergic responses. 

Allergy symptoms around Christmas:

The most common symptoms of around Christmas time, whether that be from the sap of a real tree, or the dust, mold and pollen that are found on both live or artificial trees:

  • Sneezing
  • Contact Dermatitis (itchy, hot, burning, dry, scaly skin)
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy nose, mouth or throat

Is a fake Christmas tree better than a real tree if I have allergies?

Although many people assume that artificial trees are better for allergies than real ones because they don't shed needles or release sap, that's not necessarily true. Fake trees are commonly stored in damp basements or humid attics where mold tends to thrive. Additionally, artificial Christmas trees usually accumulate significant amounts of dust, mold spores, and other irritating detritus.

Cleaning your tree, whether real or fake, can help with allergy symptoms

For those of you who get a bit sneezy around Christmas trees, a little bit of Christmas tree cleanup can make your holiday season much more enjoyable and a little bit more allergy-free!

Here are 9 easy tips to help decrease allergen exposure from Christmas trees:

  • If you're using a real tree, hose it down to wash off any mold, pollen, dirt and even insects nested in there. This way when you bring it inside, you aren’t bringing in all those allergens as well. Another option is using the service at the tree lot where machines can shake off the dirt and dead needles.

  • For fake trees, dust both the tree and ornaments and be sure to also wash the tree stand. You can also use a vacuum, leaf blower or air compressor to blow off debris from your tree. Remember that glass, metal and plastic decorations are easier to keep dust-free than soft fabric ones.

  • Consider switching up your storage. Cardboard is known to encourage mold and dust growth like no other. This can not only ruin your decorations and tree, but can cause major problems for your allergies. Instead use plastic storage containers to keep mold and dust mites at bay.

  • Spray foliage with a very diluted mixture of water and a small amount of bleach (for real trees only). This bleach-water solution kills growing mold spores while washing away any leftover grime. It will not harm the tree. However, consider avoiding this step if you have pets in your home because they may accidentally ingest this solution by gnawing on the tree.

  • Are you part of the group that puts your tree up the day after Thanksgiving? Consider keeping your tree up for a shorter period of time if it seems to be bothering you.

  • For fake trees, consider purchasing a Christmas tree storage bag to keep dust from accumulating on your tree while it’s being stored. 

  • Wear a mask when bringing your tree out of storage. You don’t know what kind of allergens are hiding in storage. With dust particles flying up everywhere there is a big risk of the tiny particles getting into your lungs and aggravating your allergies. It’s best to stay protected by wearing a mask. 

  • Wear long sleeves and gloves when handling and decorating your real tree to avoid needle pricks and sap. Make sure to change and wash your clothes when done. 

  • If you already have an air purifier, consider relocating it to the room where your tree is displayed to help filter the air in that room.

Flocking your tree?

When you're flocking your tree, it's important to be mindful of the dangers of artificial snow. The tiny particles can float right into your lungs and cause irritation in the airways.

A good idea is to be sure to do this outside in an open area and also wear a mask and eye protection to be sure nothing is getting in either.

Christmas tree allergy treatments:

While you might not be allergic to the physical tree, there are still loads of allergens present during the Christmas season. If you are allergic to mold, dust, or pollen, we can help!

Allergy drops - Allergy drops are a great way to begin a long-term treatment. They’re meant to be taken on-the-go, with just three drops under your tongue a day! The drops contain small amounts of the specific allergens that cause reactions for each person. The idea behind these shots is similar to allergy shots in that they gradually increase their dosage until your body no longer reacts negatively when exposed.

Allergy Shots - Allergy shots are a more intense form of treatment, which requires weekly or bi-weekly visits to your allergist’s office. Each visit involves receiving either one or two injections into your skin, usually in your arms. The shots contain small amounts of the allergen that you are allergic to, and over time they help desensitize your immune system so it won’t react as strongly as it used to. These shots are quick and easy, great for those who like a routine! 

ExACT Immunoplasty - If you’re looking for a way to start the year without allergies, look no further. ExACT is our fastest long-term treatment with just three shots over the span of eight weeks! This is a great way to get a head start on your allergy treatment! ExACT is a quick and effective treatment, clinically proven to be as effective as three years worth of allergy shots! 

Allergies are the worst — especially during the holidays when we're supposed to be in a cheerful and festive mood. These tips may not eliminate all your symptoms, but they should at least give you relief during the most miserable time of year for indoor allergies. If you're still feeling bad this holiday season, come and see us to help you find the right treatment for your symptoms! 

About The Author: