Christmas Tree Allergies

By:    Published: February 7, 2013

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The Christmas tree is a classic staple in many American homes over the holiday season, but some people find that as soon as the tree comes home, they start sniffling and sneezing. There are a number of causes for this type of reaction, which will be discussed along with everything else you need to know about Christmas tree allergies.

Real Versus Fake Christmas Trees

Trying to decide which type of tree to get can be difficult, and it will vary based on personal preference. Each type of tree, both real and fake can aggravate allergies; it just depends upon what the individual person is allergic to.

To many people, there is nothing better than a real Christmas tree. It just captures the essence of Christmas, right down to the very scent that fills the home. However, real Christmas trees are full of different allergens. The species of tree that are used for Christmas trees contain terpenes, which have been shown to cause allergic reactions in some people. These are the compounds that give the pine trees their smell, and because of their chemical characteristics, they are often used in perfumes, cleaning supplies and solvents. These terpenes occur naturally in the tree and people are exposed to them when brought into an enclosed space, or if they touch the tree.

Even if terpenes aren't the culprit for allergies on a real Christmas tree, mold or pollen might be. Since Christmas trees grow outside, they are exposed to all the allergens found outdoors. When people bring trees inside, they also bring in things like mold and pollen, which are extremely common allergens.  According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, when people brought Christmas trees indoors, the mold spore count in the home increased fivefold.

Unfortunately, artificial trees also contain their share of allergens. They too can harbor mold and dust after being stored in attics or damp basements all year long. They can also contain bugs and their droppings, which are also a common source of allergy irritation. In addition to this, the material that the tree is made from can be a source of the allergens. Certain plastics release chemicals into the air that can cause allergy symptoms. Any tree that has been flocked will cause allergy symptoms as well because the material used can irritate allergies.

Reducing Allergens

There are some ways to reduce the allergens associated with Christmas trees. If a real tree is chosen, the tree should be cleaned thoroughly before bringing it into the home. There are a number of ways to do this.

  • First, the tree should be shaken out outdoors to remove any loose debris.
  • Next a leaf blower or shop vacuum can be used to remove as many of the spores and particles.
  • The tree can also be washed in a solution of water and a small amount of bleach. The bleach will kill any mold present without hurting the tree and the water will wash away any dust and debris.
  • Artificial trees can be vacuumed and washed as well, but since the trees usually contain metal parts they should be dried well to prevent rust.
  • When storing artificial trees, they should be sealed inside a plastic bag and then placed in a plastic storage box. Cardboard boxes or bags let dust and bugs get into the tree.
  • Artificial trees should always be opened outside after being stored all year.

Of course, there are other Christmas tree alternatives that may provide relief from allergens. These include the Christmas tree made from soda cans, wood or a variety of other materials. They are also environmentally friendly because they can be recycled.

Treatment Options

The most important thing that people can do to reduce allergy symptoms during Christmas is to make sure their tree is free from as many allergens as possible. Here is a list of treatment options that can be implemented to alleviate Christmas tree allergies:

  • Treatment will vary based upon individual symptoms. Most of the time, an antihistamine allergy medication will do the best job, but they can cause drowsiness. There are some non-drowsy allergy medications that could help as well.
  • If over-the-counter medications are not effective, there are a number of prescription medications that can help.
  • If Christmas tree allergies are also an asthma trigger, it's important that those who suffer from asthma consult with their doctors to be sure that they have the medication that they need to keep asthma symptoms under control. This will often include daily maintenance medication such as steroid inhalers as well as acute asthma treatments like rescue inhalers.

Warning Signs

While most allergy symptoms are less than pleasant, they are typically not life threatening. If someone experiences a severe reaction, medical attention must be sought immediately. Signs of a life threatening reaction include swelling of the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing or a rash.

Christmas trees can be a source of allergy irritation, but they don't have to be. While it's impossible to remove all allergens, you can follow the tips provided here to reduce the amount of allergens that need to be dealt with meaning that people can keep the Christmas tree without having to worry too much about allergy symptoms.

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