January 16, 2019 by Laura Pincus and Patty Shillington
Coping with Christmas Tree Allergies
Did you know that you could be allergic to Christmas trees? More precisely, it’s pine trees that can cause allergic reactions, including itchy and reddish eyes, sneezing, a rash, or sometimes more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing.
An allergist, or primary care doctor, can take a detailed history of your reactions to pine nuts or pine pollen, and then administer tests and recommend appropriate treatment.
A common method for testing a patient for this type of allergy involves placing a very small amount of pine pollen or pine nut on the skin. Then the skin is lightly pricked so that a tiny amount goes into the patient’s skin. After a period of time the area is examined for redness or other changes that would indicate an allergic sensitivity, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
“The most common thing is going to be eye irritation, if you’ve touched your eyes, a little cough and sneezing,” says Sergio Segarra, M.D., chief medical officer at Baptist Hospital of Miami and an emergency physician. “You can get some welts in your hands. You can get an area of redness and a little irritation of the skin.”
If pine pollen is a trigger for allergies, then another type of Christmas tree may be better suited for your household, including fir, spruce or cypress.
There is another allergy-related concern: The mold that thrives on Christmas tree branches can trigger weeks of allergic reactions, a new study found. Connecticut researchers concluded that the mold count from a live Christmas tree spiked five times the normal level two weeks after the tree was brought indoors, creating health issues for those with mold allergies. An artificial tree may be a better option for people allergic to mold.
Real Christmas trees can carry mold, dust, and pollen, while some people can be allergic to tree sap. But the ACAAI says that artificial trees also can be an allergy trigger since they too harbor dust and mold. Some artificial trees are made of PVC, which can emit toxins into the air, irritating the lungs of some individuals in a household.
Tips for Avoiding Christmas Tree Allergies
Here are some tips for reducing indoor allergens related to Christmas trees in the home:
Live Christmas Tree Options: A Leland cypress tree is a good option for those with a pollen allergy. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, this hybrid is the most popular Christmas tree in the Southeast U.S.. It does not produce pollen or sap.
Shake It Up: If you buy your tree at a farm or lot in your community, they may have a mechanical tree shaker that will remove dead needles as well as some of the dust and mold. If physically possible, you can carefully shake the tree outside your home before carrying it inside.
Wash the Tree: Spray off your tree with water and allow to dry overnight in the garage, patio or shed before bringing it inside. This will remove some of the loose mold and pollen still on the tree. Allow the tree to dry thoroughly. Remove the residue of any pesticides or other particles that have been sprayed on it.
Dust Off Tree Ornaments: Keep in mind that your Christmas ornaments have been sitting in a box out-of-sight all year and could also be coated in dust or mold. If possible, unwrap them outside the house to avoid spreading dust inside your home. Wipe off the ornaments a soft cloth before hanging them on the tree.