Am I allergic to my Christmas tree?

December 9th 2019

During Christmas season we are all busy with holiday planning and decorating. Many people like to decorate their homes with fresh Holly, Poinsetteia plants, wreathes and ‘live’ Christmas trees. These beautiful plants and ornaments look great but may actually make us sick if we have allergies. How is that? I thought allergies only affected me during seasonal changes like spring (tree pollen), summer (grass pollen) and fall (ragweed pollen). In addition to seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR), may people suffer from year round allergies also known as perennial allergic rhinitis (PAR).

Typical allergens that cause PAR are indoor house dust mites, animal dander, cockroach and mold which occur indoor and outdoors. When winter weather comes we tend to spend more time indoors and have much more exposure to these allergens. Increased exposure leads to more allergic symptoms such as stuffy nose, congestion, itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, postnasal drip and coughing.

During the cold weather, we heat our homes which raises the indoor temperature, favoring dust mite and mold proliferation. Mold and fungus grow on decaying matter such as Christmas trees. The moment our Evergreen or Christmas tree is chopped down it begins decomposing and this process accelerates when we bring it inside our home. Studies show that mold spores rise exponentially the longer a Christmas tree remains inside. By New Year’s Day airborne mold spores are extremely high. This is why we experience more allergic symptoms and may actually get sick with sinus infection or bronchitis.

An alternative to a ‘live’ Christmas tree is the use of an artificial tree. These can be reused each year. They can look just as beautiful as a real tree and there is no landfill problem that occurs with live trees each year. If you insist on using a ‘live’ tree reduce the temperature and humidity in your home. Remove the tree from your home as soon as you are done celebrating the holiday season. And finally, consider getting an extra box or two of tissues!

- Dr. Carl Coppola