Your Christmas Tree Could Be Hiding Tons of Allergens

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Since Queen Victoria made it a thing in the nineteenth century, putting up trees has become a huge part of the holiday season. No longer just a symbol of Christmas, people across all religions (including those who don’t have a religion at all) decorate their homes with pine-needled bushes to get into the festive spirit. The not-so-festive part is that you can actually be welcoming allergens, insects, and mold to grow in your home.

While you do want twinkling lights, candy canes, and ornaments on your tree, you definitely don’t want there to be anything else. Of the 79 percent of households displaying a Christmas tree this year, 80 percent of them will be artificial trees, according to an American Christmas Tree Association study. Unfortunately, that’s not the way to solve the problem. Dr. Tricia Lee, MD, who specializes in allergy immunology in both adults and children, shares some helpful hacks and things to watch out for when you’re tree trimming this year.

About the allergens

Typically, the once-live trees used for holiday decorating are not highly allergenic because they aren’t releasing pollen spores during the dead of winter. But, there are still tons of external factors that can deposit allergens onto your tree. Consumers think they can avoid all of nature’s qualms by getting something made in a factory. Alas, nothing is perfect and artificial trees are no exception. Dr. Lee says she has even seen cases where people are allergic to pets and ultimately have to get rid of them, but because they use the same tree every year, those same allergens are still festering in the house. So if you’re feeling allergic to something in the air this time of year and this sounds like a similar story to your own, she suggests either cleaning your tree or getting a new one altogether.

Cleaning your tree can help

Cleaning a tree may sound like a weird task, but it actually makes a lot of sense. You could be bringing in insect droppings, teeny tiny eggs, pollen, and myriad other things that threaten your health into the home if you don't. Dr. Lee says a great way to clean your tree is to spray it down with a hose, or use a leaf blower and then shake it out really well. “Let it sit in sunshine and dry out,” she suggests. This way it will decrease the risk for mold. If you're using a fake tree, avoid keeping it in a damp area for 11 months out of the year and be sure to shake off any pollen spores that may be hanging on.

Things to look out for

While people with environmental allergies are at high risk this season, so are those with asthma. If you suffer from asthma, any of the strong scents and mold in the air put you at high risk for a reaction. Eczema also tends to act up around this time of year due to the sap from trees and even some of the decorations on ornaments.

Dr. Lee says she also sees an increase in allergic reactions to food this time of year because of the ambiguous nature of food at holiday parties. Whether you’re trying something completely new (like a child eating certain dishes for the first time) or you simply haven't had something in a year or so (you can develop an allergy to something you weren’t allergic to before), be careful and don't be afraid to inquire as to what's in something. 

If you find that you or someone in your house has developed breathing issues, a cough, wheezing, or a rash, you might consider “undecorating.” Dr. Lee says reactions like these lead a number of her patients to undecorate before the holiday even happens.