December 10, 2021

Am I Allergic to My Christmas Tree?

Is it possible to be allergic to my Christmas tree? 

Believe it or not, this is a common question we hear from our patients.

It all starts with a possible stuffy nose 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.

Those who find their allergies worsening around the December holidays might experience what’s called Christmas tree syndrome, or Christmas tree dermatitis if you get the rash. According to the Mayo Clinic, Christmas tree rash (pityriasis rosea) is a fine, itchy, scaly rash that usually appears first as a single patch on the chest, abdomen or back. 

Pityriasis rosea usually goes away without treatment in four to 10 weeks, but it can last months. Medicated lotions may lessen itchiness and speed the disappearance of the rash. Often, though, no treatment is required.

It’s unlikely that allergic reactions are caused by the tree itself. 

So what’s the culprit? 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. 

Is a Fake Christmas Tree Better Than a Real Tree if I Have Allergies?

Not necessarily. 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 of 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 distraction-free!

Here are 8 easy tips to help decrease allergen exposure from Christmas trees:

  • Hose down real trees to cut down on the mold, dirt and pollen that may be clinging to it. Let it dry for a few days in the garage or outside before you bring it in. Sometimes you’ll find a “tree shaker” at Christmas tree lots where a machine will shake off dirt and loose needles for you!
  • 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. Remember that glass, metal and plastic decorations are easier to keep dust-free than soft fabric ones.
  • Spray foliage with a very diluted mixture of water and a small amount of bleach (for real trees only). 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.
  • 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. 
  • Wear long sleeves and gloves when handling and decorating your real tree to avoid needle pricks and sap. Make sure to change 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.

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