Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

Could you have ‘Christmas tree syndrome’?

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy


Here’s how to tell if you’re allergic to your Christmas tree…

When our family tree gets put up and ceremoniously decorated, my mum often wheezes, and not because she’s inhaled her mince pie a little too fast. In a scrooge move on nature’s part, it is actually possible to be allergic to your Christmas tree. Pareena Patel, LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, explains how this is feasible (side eyeing nature):

“While it’s uncommon, some people do experience allergies to Christmas trees. Studies have shown that up to seven per cent of people can experience a conifer allergy.

“It is the pollen within the pine that can cause an allergic reaction, similar to that of pollen within flowers and plants cause hayfever symptoms during the spring and summer months. If you experience a grass pollen allergy, you may be more susceptible to experiencing a Christmas tree allergy.”

A poll by Prevalin Allergy puts the number of Christmas tree allergy sufferers far higher, with 35 per cent of Brits reportedly experiencing hayfever- symptoms around silly season, but how do you know if it’s your tree that’s bringing on those bunged up feels? Pareena advises a strategic approach to get to the bottom of seasonal allergies:

“You are more ly to experience symptoms if you have other allergies, most notably hayfever or asthma.

As it is an unusual occurrence and of course symptoms appear over the winter period, many people may misdiagnose their symptoms as a cold or flu, associated with a congested nose, coughing and watery eyes.

While a cold can have very similar symptoms to an allergy, it usually only lasts up to ten days, while an allergy can last for weeks or months.

“If you are unsure if it’s a Christmas tree causing a reaction, we would recommend keeping a diary of your symptoms, monitoring when you are in contact or proximity of festive spruces.”

Physicist Dr Brian Cox, who reports suffering from Christmas tree allergies, went one step further with his Christmas tree testing (as you might expect really), filling his house with a number of different Christmas tree species to determine which variety of conifer he was allergic to. Before you turn your front room into a tree nursery, here are some classic Christmas tree syndrome symptoms, why your tree is setting them off and how to minimise tree related reactions, because for most of us, dodging pine trees at this time of year is nigh on impossible.

Christmas tree allergy symptoms

If any of the following crop up after putting up your tree you could be suffering according to Pareena:

“The most common reactions are sneezing, wheezing and skin rashes. However, in most cases the reaction will be very similar to that of hayfever and therefore will include itchy, watery eyes, coughing, itchy or sore throat and a blocked nose.

“If you have asthma, your symptoms may become more frequent if you have a Christmas tree at home. You may experience tightness in your chest, wheezing and a shortness of breath.”

Christmas tree allergies are a particular problem for asthma sufferers according to Asthma UK, which is chiefly down to one allergy trigger…

Spoil spore-t

This less than wholesome fact revealed by Pareena will make you look at your lovingly decorated Christmas tree in a whole new light:

“Christmas trees often harbour mould and the warmth from inside your home can cause mould spores to multiply which increases the risk of an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.”

Asthma UK reports that mould triggers asthmatic symptoms and attacks for around 5.

4 million people in the UK, so this isn’t something to be sniffed at, especially given that a study carried out by Upstate Medical University found that Christmas trees typically harbour 53 different types of mould.

Delicious. If you’re chucking your real tree the window as you’re reading, it turns out that an artificial tree might not fare much better…

Why a fake tree isn’t a fix

I’m starting to ask what gives. Pareena underlines why going faux might not clear up your allergies:

“Artificial trees can gather mould and dust while in storage, which can cause allergic reactions too. House dust mites and mould fungus are particularly associated with perennial allergic rhinitis. Perennial allergic rhinitis is an allergic response, which is present all year round, typically as a result of fungal spores and dust.”

Before you cancel Christmas, you needn’t go without a tree if you’re an allergy sufferer – just take a few precautions to limit tree fever.

Consider a different tree species

When picking out your tree the variety you go for could reduce your lihood of allergic reactions. Apparently the Leyland Cypress is one to watch if you’ve got allergies as it’s a “sterile” hybrid species that doesn’t produce any pollen, which will be glad tidings if sneezing, watery eyes and itchy throats tend to accompany tree-time.

Cool it

Pareena emphasises that keeping your tree by a roaring fire won’t help matters:

“To reduce the risk of your Christmas tree affecting your asthma or causing an allergic reaction, keep trees in the coolest area of your house and hose them down before bringing them inside to wash away mould spores.”

Shake it

Let your tree dry if you’ve given it a wash and shake it out to reduce to release spores and dust before you bring it inside.

Bleach it

This one’s a slightly extreme measure but spraying your tree with a water and bleach solution kills mould spores yet won’t affect your tree, although if you have pets or young children this isn’t to be recommended for obvious reasons.

Glove it

Dust off decorations and consider wearing gloves when decorating the tree to reduce skin rashes and the possibility of other allergic reactions. You’ll feel pretty fancy as you hang your baubles too.

Treecycle it

Once the festivities are over don’t leave you real tree hanging about. Check out where your local tree recycling drop off points are and give it a new lease of life while you breathe easy.

Pack it away

If you’ve got an artificial tree, pack it away carefully in sealed bags in a cool, dry space to avoid dust and mould spores accumulating throughout the year.

Furnish your first aid kit

Don’t get caught short when the GP or pharmacy is closed. Ensure that you have all the inhalers you need if you’re asthmatic and remember to use them pre-tree exposure, alongside any other medications in your asthma care plan. Have antihistamines to hand if you’re allergic, and Pareena has a few other suggestions if you experience hayfever-esque symptoms:

“Some people find that putting a smear of Vaseline inside each of your nostrils may ease soreness and stop spores and pine pollen in their tracks.

“Also, while you can take measures to protect yourself at home, you might not be able to do the same when out and about or at work. In this case, you should speak to your pharmacist who can recommend ways to alleviate your symptoms.

“LloydsPharmacy Allergy Reliever, £19.99, uses red light therapy in order to suppress the cells that release histamines which can help to reduce the allergy symptoms. The device is both portable and lightweight which is great if you need to cart it about over the Christmas period too.”

Putting lights on the tree just took on a new meaning. If all else fails, go Scandi style and experiment with paper or wooden trees. The vibes will still be hyggely only you won’t be struggling to see as you open your presents.

The 25 best beauty and wellbeing gifts to add to your list this year


Coping with Christmas Tree Syndrome

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

By Kathryn Matthews

As someone who has year-round allergies—pollen, ragweed, mold, dust, pet dander (especially cats and horses), nuts (specifically, walnuts and almonds), MSG, food additives and preservatives—I was distressed to add yet another allergen to my list last week: Christmas trees.

Yep.  I refused to believe it…at first.  But when I had a whopping allergy attack—on Christmas Day, no less—I had no choice but to acknowledge that I had Christmas Tree Syndrome—a condition where breathing in mold spores that grow on Christmas trees causes an allergic reaction.

Achoo! Yes, these balsam beauties are potential allergy culprits

I’ve always loved December. The whole month—for me—has always been one of sensual anticipation—in all its sparkling, glittery, clove-infused, pine-scented glory.

Picking out and decorating our Christmas tree upstate is a December highlight.  But this year, bound to the City by work, I missed out on our annual ritual.  My husband Christopher did it all this year, a week before Christmas.

When my husband picked me up at the train station the Friday before Christmas, I found myself sniffling in the car. Was that the scent of fresh pine I detected?  It was. “I transported our Christmas tree in the car,” my husband explained.  And I didn’t give it another thought.

When we arrived at our house, I was delighted.  The tree was beautifully decorated.  And the bracing scent of balsam fir wafted through the rooms.  Ahhh!  It smelled Christmas.

Christmas Eve: after a day of baking and 11th hour shopping, I began sniffling, which intensified until I went to bed.  I slept 10 hours, indescribably fatigued.  Christmas Day dawned bright and sunny.  Shortly after breakfast, I began sneezing in earnest.  Uh-oh, was I coming down with a cold?

While sitting in front of the tree, we exchanged gifts.  My sneezing escalated in frequency and intensity, becoming alarmingly violent and convulsive.  My nose ran Niagra Falls; it was also swollen and bright red, rivaling Rudolph’s.

“I think I’m allergic to the Christmas tree,” I said glumly.

I hate taking any kind of drug, but I popped a Claritan.  Then, despite my fatigue (thanks to my allergies), I headed outdoors for a 7-mile run.  Wouldn’t you know it?  The moment I stepped outside, my nose stopped running.  Nary a sniffle.

Turns out I’m not alone.  More people are allergic to Christmas trees than you might think.

A recent study from State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University suggests that Christmas trees are indeed allergy culprits.

Lead researcher and allergy specialist Dr. Lawrence Kurlandsky was curious as to why there was an uptick of respiratory illnesses around Christmas.

  He asked his colleagues at Upstate Medical University  in Syracuse to bring in clippings of pine needles and bark from the live Christmas trees they had in their homes.  The results, published in Annals of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, revealed that 53 different kinds of mold were present on 26 samples.

  According to the study, most of the molds identified were potential allergens that can potentially trigger wheezing, coughing, sneezing and allergic reactions in infants.

Lights and central heating can facilitate mold growth

Kurlandsky’s study also referenced a 2007 Bridgeport, Connecticut study, where researchers tracked mold growth of a single live Christmas tree in a Connecticut home.

  They found that, over a two-week period (between December 24th and January 6th), the number of airborne mold spores increased exponentially, from 800 spores per square meter the first three days (spore counts less than 1,000 are considered “normal”), to 5,000 spores by day 14.  FYI: hot lights and central heating also facilitate mold growth.

If you or your kids aren’t exhibiting symptoms, or aren’t prone to allergies to begin with, having a live Christmas tree may be just fine. However, if you’re allergy-prone me—especially to dust, pet dander and molds—you’ll ly experience some degree of Christmas Tree Syndrome.

Even so…  Despite this debilitating go-around with our Christmas tree, I’m not quite ready to give it up.  For die-hards me, here’s what allergy and immunology experts, including Dr. Kurlandsky, advise:

♣  Thoroughly hose down your tree and let it dry before bringing it into the house.  If you bought your tree at a nursery, ask if they have tree washing services.

♣  Clean all ornaments and lights before putting on the tree; they can harbor dust and molds.  Store all decorations in plastic containers that can be easily wiped down since cardboard can potentially attract dust and mold.

♣  Minimize exposure.  If you’re sensitive to molds, Dr. Phillip Hemmer, a co-author of the Bridgeport Christmas tree study, suggests keeping a live Christmas tree no more than four to seven days

♣  Run an air purifier in the same room as the Christmas tree.  This may help alleviate symptoms.

♣  Buy a fake tree.  Not the same, I know!  Plus, artificial trees are not a failsafe solution; if carelessly stored (eg, in a dusty attic, damp basement or barn), they can also introduce dust and mold, exacerbating allergies.   Experts advise washing off or, at the very least, wiping down artificial trees.

♣  Keep allergy meds on hand.  In my case, Claritan didn’t work, but maybe another brand will.


Kurlandsky L.E.  Identification of mold on seasonal indoor coniferous trees.  Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.  2011; 106: 543-544

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

U.S. News & World Report



What is Christmas tree syndrome?

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

Itchy, red bumps when you string lights on your real Christmas tree.

A stuffy nose when you bring pine inside your home in December.

More frequent use of an asthma inhaler over the holidays.

People who notice their allergies worsening this time of year might experience what’s sometimes called Christmas tree syndrome, or Christmas tree dermatitis if you get the rash.

Many of you are undoubtedly among die-hard fans of the real Christmas tree tradition (my husband included). Let’s break down what might aggravate your allergies or asthma and outline a plan to handle those irritants so you hopefully can continue to enjoy fresh evergreen.

The causes of Christmas tree allergies might surprise you, and be warned: a fake tree can come with its own allergy problems.

There was an article about Christmas tree syndrome tacked up in allergy exam rooms at the Ear and Eye Institute at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I was surprised how many patients said, “Hey, that happens to me.”

I get the sense that the problem is ly more prevalent than we know. Some patients wondered whether they are allergic to pine trees.

But it turns out that the pine pollen, a common allergen other times of the year, is not the main irritant lurking in your fresh-cut tree.

Mold growing on the Christmas tree is most ly to blame for watery eyes, runny noses or trouble breathing.

Dust on branches and some lingering pollen from the pine or other plants could contribute to a lesser extent.

Here’s a telling statistic: More than 50 kinds of mold where found on samples researchers brought in from their own Christmas trees for a 2011 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Many common culprits for allergies were among the bunch.

If mold and dust are behind Christmas tree syndrome, guess what that means for artificial trees?

A fake tree might not be any better if it’s dusty or stored in a damp basement or humid garage or attic where mold could grow.

And what’s behind skin breakouts that hit some people after they carry a fresh tree or hang ornaments on it?

People with rashes might be allergic to a component of the Christmas tree’s sap.

The irritating material that comes from the sticky sap is called colophony or rosin, and it can cause a rash similar to one from poison ivy, developing in the day or two after touching the tree.

Additionally, some people with sensitive skin could get red, itchy spots simply from needles poking the skin, similar to how some of us are more prone to irritation from scratchy sweaters.

Here’s what I tell patients trying to prevent Christmas tree allergies:

Give your tree a shower

To knock off mold, pollen and dirt, hose down your real tree before you bring it inside and let it dry for a few days in a garage or outside if it’s warm enough. Use the service at tree lots where a machine shakes off dirt and dead needles.

Dust your artificial tree and ornaments, and wash off the stand. Try a vacuum or leaf blower to dislodge dust.

Cover skin when decorating

Wear long sleeves and gloves to avoid needle pricks and sap. Change clothes when you’re done.

Consider a storage upgrade

Cardboard boxes and open bags stuffed with strands of lights allow dust to accumulate. Switch to storage containers that keep out dust mites. Can you make space to store your artificial tree in a temperature-controlled part of your home to cut down on moisture?

Relocate air purifiers

I hesitate to recommend buying air purifiers because of the uncertainty of their benefits for the price. However, if you own one, put it in the room with your Christmas tree to see if that makes a difference.

When all else fails, try an artificial tree next year

Consider it an experiment to find out whether going fake causes fewer allergy problems.

If your tree makes you sneeze or wheeze, try this three-fold plan:

1. Minimize exposure

Follow the steps above and don’t keep your tree up as long.

2. Find the right treatment

Some suggestions:

  • Nasal washes to clear sinuses and to soothe inflammation
  • Allergy drops for eyes
  • Long-lasting, nondrowsy antihistamines for sneezing or runny noses
  • Nasal steroid sprays for stuffy noses
  • Hydrocortisone cream for rashes (though you might need stronger treatment)

3. Investigate prescription options

If you try the steps I’ve recommended and over-the-counter medicines aren’t cutting through your allergies, consider immunotherapy treatments. You’re exposed to small doses of substances you’re allergic to through oral drops or shots, with the goal of becoming less allergic over time.

For a rash, you might need a prescription steroid ointment or oral steroid. Get to a doctor if your condition keeps you from sleeping, interferes with work or school, or causes you to need your asthma rescue inhaler more than twice a week.


Allergic to that Christmas tree? Maybe not, but these tips could ease the sneeze and wheeze

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

Oh, Christmas tree — achoo — oh, Christmas tree.

‘Tis the season for choosing and decorating a tree, hanging a wreath, lighting candles, and cozying up indoors.

Dr. Robert Gorby, an allergy and immunology specialist with Westmoreland Allergy and Asthma Associates, said spending so much time indoors can cause flare-ups.

According to, more than 40 million Americans cope with year-round allergies, with some common holiday triggers including food, mold, pets and dust mites.

“With regard to Christmas trees, people think they are allergic to trees,” Gorby said.

But it’s what is on the trees, which do not pollinate during winter, that can cause a problem.

Mold can grow on trees when they are being packed or shipped, Gorby said, especially if they are moist from having been sprayed.

“What we recommend, and it sounds counter-intuitive, is to spray trees with water. But they need to dry, probably in a garage, overnight,” he said.

Christmas trees also can be shaken, Gorby said, to get rid of some of the mold, which can otherwise proliferate within a home.

He suggested the same treatment for fresh wreaths and pine boughs.

AdvantaClean, a national franchise of indoor air quality with several locations in Western Pennsylvania, also suggests wearing gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid sap touching one’s skin, and wiping down the trunk of the tree with a solution of 1-part bleach to 20 parts lukewarm water.

Artificial trees are probably better for those with mold or weed pollen allergies, Gorby said.

The Christmas Tree Association also weighs in, noting improper storage of artificial trees can accumulate significant dust and spores.

While convenience or tradition may dictate the type of tree one purchases, the association covers both bases, suggesting hosing down or shaking off both real and fake trees before setting up and decorating.

Keep it clean

Ornaments,kept boxed up during the rest of the year, can cause problems.

“Stuffed animals can accumulate dust mites,” Gorby said. If feasible, he recommends stuffed animals be placed in a garment bag and run through the dryer.

AdvantaClean suggests wiping down decorations with a damp cloth when taking them storage, and packing them in plastic bags or bins after the holidays. Cardboard can collect dust and promote mold growth, the service states.

Those darned cats

Allergic to them or not, felines are members of many people’s households.

Gorby suggested those with allergies consider starting over-the-counter medications, such as Allegra or Zyrtec, a few days before being around the animals.

Antihistamines, Gorby said, can help with symptoms itchy, watery eyes.

There is not a lot a host can do to make their home more comfortable for those allergic to cats. “Cat dander is sticky. It flies all through the house,” Gorby said.

Dust mites, he said, live in box springs, mattresses, stuffed animals and pillows, and have nothing to do with cleanliness.

Laundering sheets and blankets in hot water can rid bedding of mites, Gorby said.

Candles can be another holiday no-no for some.

“Depending on the scent, for people with asthma they can be a pretty potent trigger,” Gorby said.

AdvantaClean suggests candles made from soy, hemp or beeswax, or even ones using LED “flickering light” effects may be a better option.

Categories:Health | Lifestyles | News


11 Ways To Cope With Christmas or Pine Tree Allergies This Year

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

Dan Brownsword / Getty Images

There is so much confusing information out there about which type of Christmas tree is better for your health and the environment, especially if you happen to be allergic to Christmas trees or pine trees.

Should you get a real tree or an artificial tree? What about an eco-friendly alternative Christmas? Would a live tree in a pot that you'd plant following Christmas actually be the best choice? The truth is, there are pros and cons to all these alternatives.

Real trees can harbor mold, dust, and pollen, and some people have contact skin allergies to terpene, which is found in the sap of trees. But the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) cautions that artificial trees also can be an allergy trigger since they too harbor dust and mold.

Many artificial trees are made of PVC, which emits toxins into your indoor air and can irritate your lungs.

The ACAAI reports that true pine tree allergy is pretty uncommon, but if you have this allergy, there are other live types of trees you can choose that may not trigger your allergy. Alternatively, you can consider an artificial tree.

Whichever alternative you choose, here are some tips for reducing indoor allergens and having an allergy-friendly Christmas.

  • Choose an allergy-friendly tree: If pine pollen is a major allergy trigger for you, a fir, spruce, or cypress Christmas tree may be a better bet. The Leyland Cypress is a sterile hybrid tree, which means it does not produce any pollen. It is a popular Christmas tree in the Southeast.
  • To find a Leyland Cypress or another tree that is less allergenic for you, it can be best to contact local Christmas tree farms. The growers will know which tree species are available. A big box store or tree lot may have a limited selection or not know which types of trees they are selling.
  • Shake it up: If you buy your tree at a farm or lot, they may have a mechanical tree shaker that will remove dead needles as well as some of the dust and mold.
  • Wash your tree: Spray off your tree with water and allow to dry overnight in the garage before putting it up. This will remove some of the loose mold and pollen that is on the tree. Allow the tree to dry thoroughly before bringing indoors. Using a veggie wash may help to remove more mold and pollen than spraying water alone, and will also help to remove the residue of any pesticides that have been sprayed on the tree.
  • Set your tree up outside: If you love the look of a Christmas tree but your allergies are getting in the way of you enjoying the holiday, try setting the tree up on your porch or in front of a large window. You can enjoy the tree while sitting indoors, away from the pollen and dust.
  • Wipe it down: Artificial trees may also harbor dust and mold since they spend a lot of years sitting around in boxes. Wipe them down with a dust cloth, or take them outside and hose them off if they are not pre-lit.
  • Choose a tree with less off-gassing: Some new artificial trees are made of molded polyethylene (PE) instead of PVC, which may have lower levels of off-gassing. These trees are very realistic and tend to be more expensive than PVC trees. Know what you're buying before you order it or wrestle the box into your shopping cart. Alternatively, buy your tree very early (a simple task, given that stores stock them starting in September), and set it up to off-gas somewhere away from your main living areas, such as a garage or a shed.
  • Try an eco-friendly alternative tree: Some of the creative alternative trees have a modernist design sensibility, others are more basic. Here are two possibilities: Africa Tree, which is made from laser-cut steel and tress sold by artists on Etsy, such as a Christmas tree made from laser-cut cardboard (and ready to be recycled with the wrapping paper)
  • Dust your ornaments: Your Christmas ornaments have been sitting in a box all year, and may also be coated in dust or mold. If possible, unwrap them outside to avoid spreading dust inside your home. Wipe them off with a soft cloth before hanging. At the end of the season, wrap your ornaments in new paper, rather than re-using old, dusty paper. If the dust continues to be a problem, consider using just lights on your tree, or possibly simple, new decorations (such as inexpensive faux “glass” ornaments) instead.
  • Clean your wreaths: Artificial wreaths can be vacuumed or dusted with a soft cloth.
  • Avoid scented candles: Scented candles can cause stuffy noses and irritated lungs. If you crave a little atmosphere with your holiday meals, try unscented beeswax candles.
  • Use allergy-friendly candy: If you decorate your tree with candy canes or other candies, be sure to use allergy-friendly candies.

Christmas is a festive time of year, but it also can be somewhat hazardous for people who suffer from allergies.

Still, there's no reason you can't have an allergy-friendly home that's also beautifully decorated for the season.

Start with the least allergenic Christmas tree you can find, and add clean, dust-free ornaments (and maybe some gluten-free candy canes) for the perfect allergy-friendly holiday.

Thanks for your feedback!

What are your concerns?


11 Ways to Cope with Christmas Tree or Pine Allergies for the Holidays

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

There is so much confusing information out there about which type of Christmas tree is better for your health and the environment, especially if you happen to be allergic to Christmas trees or pine trees. Should you get a real tree or an artificial tree? What about an eco-friendly alternative Christmas? Would a live tree in a pot that you’d plant following Christmas actually be the best choice?

The truth is, there are pros and cons to all these alternatives.

For example, real trees can harbor mold, dust, and pollen, and some people are allergic to tree sap. But the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) cautions that artificial trees also can be an allergy trigger since they too harbor dust and mold. Many fake trees are made of PVC, which emits toxins into your indoor air and can irritate your lungs.

The ACAAI reports that true pine tree allergy is pretty uncommon, but if you have this allergy, there are other live types of trees you can choose that may not trigger your allergy. Alternatively, you can consider an artificial tree.Whichever alternative you choose, here are some tips for reducing indoor allergens and having an allergy-friendly Christmas.

Choose an allergy-friendly tree: If pine pollen is a major allergy trigger for you, a fir, spruce, or cypress Christmas tree may be a better bet. The Leyland Cypress is a sterile hybrid tree, which means it does not produce any pollen.

To find a Leyland Cypress Christmas tree, you may need to bypass the Christmas tree lots and big box stores and instead go direct to the source: a local Christmas tree farm. The farmers there will know whether the trees they have are Leyland Cypress.

It’s a popular type of tree, so call around and you’re ly to find one.

Amy L. Darter, MD, PC, CPI, FAAAAI, FACAAI, is Medical Director and Founder of the Oklahoma Institute of Allergy & Asthma and the Oklahoma Institute of Allergy & Asthma Clinical Research, LLC in Oklahoma City. She is also Clinical Assistant Professor in the department of Internal Medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dr. Darter earned her medical degree and completed her internship in Internal Medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, where she was Chief Medical Resident in her final year. She completed her fellowship in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Dr. Darter is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Allergy and Immunology and became a Certified Physician Investigator in 2010.

She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and a member of a number of professional organizations including the Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.

Additionally, Dr. Darter is a member of the Speaker Bureau and advisory board for Baxter, as well as a key opinion leader and member of the advisory board for Sunovion.

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Could YOU be allergic to your Christmas tree? Pines are haven for moulds

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

By Lucy Elkins for MailOnline
Updated: 10:07 BST, 23 December 2011

Bar humbug: The traditional pine could actually be ruining many people's Christmas by causing serious allergic reactions

Some elements of Christmas are certainly more appealing than others, but there is one part few of us do without: the tree.

With presents around the base and lights and decorations twinkling, it becomes the focal point of any home at this time of year. 

Yet new research suggests that rather than enhancing the festive feel, the traditional Christmas pine tree may actually be making some people ill.

Christmas Tree Syndrome — as it is known — is caused by a number of different moulds that grow on these trees.

They are found on the trees naturally but they flourish and rapidly increase in number once inside our snug, centrally heated homes.

This came to light for the first time in a study conducted by allergy specialist Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky, who was interested to discover why respiratory illnesses peak around Christmas.

He asked colleagues at the Upstate Medical University in New York to provide clippings of bark and pine needles from the Christmas tree they’d had in their home.

He and his team found 53 different kinds of mould present on 23 samples, according to the research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

These weren’t everyday mould — 70 per cent were of the type that can trigger asthma attacks, sneezing and a runny nose. ‘I do think this study is very significant,’ says Dr Adrian Morris, an allergy specialist from the Surrey Allergy Clinic.

‘It has been previously suspected that the Christmas tree might be causing allergies and allergy-triggered asthma in particular.

Before this study it was thought that the tree pollen or even the weed killer applied to trees could be responsible. Now we know that it’s the mould.

‘What is so interesting about this study is that the mould they found in highest quantities on the trees — aspergillus, penicillium, cladosporium and alternaria — are the moulds most ly to trigger allergies.’

Trigger: Moulds naturally occur on the pines, but flourish rapidly when brought into centrally heated environments of our homes

These moulds can cause standard allergic rhinitis, leading to a streaming nose and sinus pain, but may also trigger an asthma attack.

‘Around 10 per cent of the people with allergy-based asthma have attacks triggered by mould, and cladosporium is one of the main culprits for this,’ says Dr Morris.

‘The number of cladosporium spores circulating often increase at this time of year anyway (it’s typically found among rotting leaves or compost heaps) and this can cause outbreaks of asthma attacks that lead to A&E departments being inundated with cases.’

The typical signs that your tree may be making you ill are if you suddenly have an asthma attack after the tree is brought indoors or if your nose suddenly starts running and you are sneezing, even though you don’t feel as if you have a cold.

Miserable experience: Mould from the pines can cause allergic rhinitis, sinus pain and even trigger an asthma attack

By the time the tree has been up for two weeks, the number of spores found in an average flat increase from 800 per cubic metres to 5,000  per cubic metre, according to other research quoted in the study.

‘That is more than enough to trigger an allergic reaction,’ says Dr Morris. ‘To put that into perspective, with hay fever you need around 50 pollen per cubic metres to trigger symptoms in a hay fever sufferer.’

For some people the effects of the mould can be severe. In around one in 500 people — such as those with a compromised immune system — the aspergillus mould will settle and grow inside their airways.

‘This may cause the sudden onset of a cough and fatigue that won’t shift,’ says Dr Morris.

‘It is normally diagnosed with a blood test but can be hard to treat, as anti-fungal treatments don’t work in the airways, so steroids usually have to be used instead.’

And if that isn’t enough to make you start to edge the Christmas tree towards the door, there is more bad news. It’s not just the mould on the tree that can cause problems.

‘Someone with a lot of allergies can be allergic to smells and just the smell of the Christmas tree — which comes from the pine resin — can trigger sneezes and wheezes in some people,’ says Dr Bill Frankland of the London Allergy Clinic.

‘Also, if someone already has a respiratory allergy (such as to a pet or dust mites) then the lining of their nose is already over-secreting and sensitive and the mould on the Christmas tree may make the symptoms of their normal allergy worse.’

However, as Christmas involves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between friends and relatives it can be hard to identify whether your runny nose is due to the Christmas tree, dust mites at your friend’s house or Auntie Ethel’s cat.

‘If your symptoms get worse in the room where the tree is and especially when you get close to the tree — for example, as you take presents off it — then it is safe to say the allergen causing your problems is coming from the tree,’ says Dr Frankland.

Relief at hand: Experts recommend using sprays to alleviate the condition as they target the nasal passages where the reaction is triggered

So if the finger of blame points to the tree what should you do about it?

Packing away the fairy and  binning the tree is quite an extreme measure — especially as they are far from cheap.

‘What you can do is to spray it with a mild bleach solution, as this will help kill off the mould,’ advises Dr Morris. ‘Do this before you take the tree into the house — and preferably when it is still wrapped up, as it will be easier. If you are suffering from mild sneezes or just a bit of a runny nose, then take antihistamines.

‘The nasal sprays are the best because they work directly on the nasal passages where the allergic reaction to the mould is triggered.’

The other option is to make do with an artificial tree instead. This is especially worth doing for parents who suffer from bad asthma or allergies.

‘Their children may be what we call atopic — prone to developing allergies — and they may become sensitised to mould if exposed to it early on,’ says Dr Morris.

‘If they get exposed to these moulds within the first year of their life, they may develop an allergy to them later on. Artificial trees are a safe option for allergy sufferers because they are made of plastic.

‘Artificial trees won’t develop mould and house dust mites (another common allergy trigger) won’t gather on them when they get thrown in the loft after Christmas.’

Fake trees may not deliver that lovely pine smell or create quite the same atmosphere as a real one. But if you’ve found yourself sneezing and wheezing recently, they’re a solution not to be sniffed at.

Did you know….

The carol In The bleak Midwinter started life as a poetry competition entry


Tips to Help You Enjoy the Holidays

Coping With a Christmas Tree or Pine Tree Allergy

If you have asthma and/or allergies, you might be a little hesitant to fully engage in all the holiday cheer. While family and friends are out merrymaking, you must wonder, will scented candles or the smell of pine from a Christmas tree trigger your asthma or allergies? Or if you have food allergies, are there seasonal foods you should avoid?

In this article, we explore all elements of the holidays. Whether you have allergies, asthma, or both, we hope these tips will help you safely enjoy this time of the year.

Holiday Parties and Seasonal Foods

Looking Out for Allergies on Thanksgiving

Holiday eating can be a huge risk for food allergy sufferers. From holiday side dishes to mystery cookies served at holiday parties, the food may look delicious, but is it worth eating? Here are some tips for navigating holiday meals:

  • When attending holiday parties, inform the host about your food allergy and ask about ingredients used to prepare the meal.
  • Always ask what’s in a dish before you eat it! For instance, you might think you know all the ingredients, but you can never be truly certain what’s in it if it’s homemade.
  • Remind family and friends that strict avoidance is the only way to manage food allergies and that even “one little bit” can be harmful.
  • When visiting family or friends, be prepared for possible reactions to everything, from pets to food to perfumes. Never leave home without the appropriate medication(s), equipment, and a written action plan so that proper steps can be taken in case of an emergency.
  • If visiting homes that have pets, pre-medicate to minimize a possible reaction.
  • Bring an injectable epinephrine with you and keep it on your person during all holiday eating events.

Scented Candles

The holidays are tied with certain scents pine, baking cookies, holly leaves and seasonal berries. If you can’t make all these scents happen in real life, then you might thing a scented candle is the next best thing.

Unfortunately, scented candles can lead to asthma attacks. It’s even possible for a person with allergies to be agitated by the smell of candles. Candles, especially scented ones, can release toxic soot and petrochemicals that can aggravate the respiratory tract.

If you or a loved one deal with allergies and/or asthma related to scented candles, then follow these steps to enjoy a happy and fragrant holiday season:

  • Think about making the switch to unscented candles. These are a visually appealing alternative to create ambiance without any scents.
  • If you must, use scented candles very sparingly. Always light them in well-ventilated areas. This way, the smell of the candle isn’t as prevalent. That may make it less ly for the candle to start an asthma or allergy attack.
  • Never light candles in the bedroom of an allergy and/or asthma sufferer. The prolonged exposure can disrupt sleep and worsen symptoms.
  • Similarly, do not light a candle at the dinner table.
  • Ask your relatives or friends to avoid burning wood in the fireplace. The smoke can irritate allergic and asthmatic airways

Real Christmas Trees

If you celebrate Christmas, then no decorating is complete without the home’s centerpiece: the Christmas tree. If you and your loved ones can’t get enough of the real thing, you could be inviting allergens into your home and your life, says the ACAAI.

There’s the tree sap’s terpene, dust and mold to worry about triggering an allergy attack. The strong evergreen smell can also be problematic. It’s best to safeguard yourself in these ways:

  • Before decorating a live Christmas tree, allow it to dry out on an enclosed porch or garage. If you are allergic to mold you can also spray with a fungicide (be aware of a chemical odor).
  • Shake the tree off prior to placing in the home. An air compressor can be helpful for blowing out debris.
  • The same goes if you have any wreaths or boughs made of real pine. These too could lead to allergy symptoms. Try to limit the amount of days the greenery is in the home.
  • An air purifier in the same room as the tree can help reduce mold levels.
  • Consider buying an artificial Christmas tree to reduce allergens. Do not buy an artificial tree coated with sprayed-on “snow.” Such additions (including pine-scented sprays or oils) can aggravate asthma or allergy.
  • But even with artificial trees, you must be diligent about cleaning the tree of all dust before setting it up. Wear a mask when getting it storage every year and clean artificial Christmas trees outside before decorating, as they can gather mold and dust while in storage.
  • Wash fabric decorations in hot, soapy water before displaying.
  • Use plastic, metal, or glass decorations that cannot trap dust mites.
  • When you’re finished celebrating, store your decorations in plastic boxes rather than cardboard, which can harbor mold.

Cold Weather

Caroling, ice skating, making snowmen…there are so many wintry activities to do around the holidays. Your lungs prefer for air to be warm and humidified (the job of your nose!) but cold, dry winter air can make breathing harder for some asthma patients.

If you have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, then outdoor winter activities could leave you symptomatic.

You may have shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness and wheezing after about five minutes in the cold.

If it takes longer for your symptoms to show up, you can still typically expect them to manifest within 20 minutes. If you experience chest pain, you’re ly having a severe reaction and need emergency medical care.

Here’s how you can avoid pain and discomfort from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction this winter:

  • Ask your loved ones to move activities inside when possible.
  • Avoid overexerting yourself outside, if possible. If you stick to light activity, you may not trigger exercise-induced bronchoconstriction symptoms.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when outside.


Few things bring on holiday cheer more than a roaring fire on a cold winter day. Unfortunately, breathing in smoky air can lead to shortness of breath for those with asthma. Here are some recommendations from the ACAAI for easier breathing:

  • Minimize your time around fireplaces, fire pits or bonfires if you can help it. The smoke could lead to wheezing and other lung discomfort. Make an effort to not be downwind if outside.
  • Electric fireplaces can be a great alternative for creating that perfect holiday setting. These mimic the look and sounds of a real fire without any of the smoke or odors.

How Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center Can Help You Navigate the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time. Pay attention to your stress level which can sometimes exacerbate allergic symptoms or lead to an asthma attack.

We want you to enjoy the holiday season and its activities, so please reach out to us at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center if you have concerns about asthma or allergies this year.

We’re a Charlotte-based medical center that offers treatment and management of both allergies and asthma.

Whether you have common allergies or uncommon ones latex sensitivity, sinus disease, insect allergies and even drug or food allergies, we’re here to help.

We have offices across North Carolina and one in South Carolina, so you can set up an appointment at a location most convenient to you. Contact us to book your appointment today. We look forward to hearing from you. Happy Holidays!

For more tips to reduce the potential for allergens in your home during the holiday season, check out this article from The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).