Signs and symptoms of Christmas tree allergies including what to do, the best tree for you, and how to manage the allergy through the holiday.
Just put up the Christmas tree and suddenly can’t stop sneezing? You aren’t alone! Many people are finding that they are allergic to one or all parts of Christmas trees, both real Christmas trees and artificial Christmas trees.
This article walks you through the different aspects of a Christmas tree allergy, symptoms, what to avoid, and how you can still enjoy a beautiful tree in the Christmas season.
For more on indoor plant allergies, read this article here.
- Yes, you can be allergic to both living and artificial trees for different reasons.
- The main triggers for tree allergies are: Pollen, dust, mold, and sap.
- To minimize your risk of allergic reactions, wear gloves while handling both real and artificial trees and always dust or wash your trees at the beginning and end of every holiday season, no matter if you use a real or artificial tree.
Can I be allergic to Christmas trees?
The short answer is: Yes! You can be allergic to the Christmas tree, the dust on the tree, or the mold in the pot.
The Christmas tree can itself give you an allergic reaction in one of three different ways.
The first is that you can be allergic to the scent of the tree itself.
Pine trees are known for their lovely scent that comes from a substance called terpene. This can cause an allergic reaction to people who are allergic to tree trees. It also can be overwhelming for people with breathing difficulties like asthma or COPD. Additionally, it can cause your eyes to be irritated.
Next, you can be allergic to the tree sap. The sap is in the trunk and branches. This can leak, especially when first cutting and transporting the tree and as you are placing ornaments on top. It can cause contact dermatitis, particularly in people with tree allergies or people with eczema or other skin issues.
Finally, you can be allergic to dust or mold or pollen on the tree. Real trees are filled with pollen from growing outdoors. They often have mold on them or in their trunk and branches. There are different kinds of mold that can grow on them, so if you have any kind of mold allergies, this is a big one to avoid. Artificial trees are often dusty from being in storage and never getting washed.
Christmas Tree and other Outdoor Allergies
The pollen of other plants, grasses, and trees were found to be on the bark and foliage of Christmas trees in high numbers, according to a study done in 1970. These other pollen dramatically increased indoor air pollution, up to 6 times greater!
The State University of New York Upstate Medical University also found that living trees have on average 53 different types of mold on the trees themselves.
All the more reason to wash the tree before bringing it inside and using an air filter next to the tree to minimize any reactions.
While symptoms can vary from person to person, here is a list of common symptoms for those who are allergic to Christmas trees.
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Breathing issues, coughing, wheezing
- Asthma attacks
- Nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose
- Contact dermatitis
In our research, we did not see any anaphylactic reactions to Christmas trees. However, this doesn’t mean that this can’t happen as different people have varying reactions to different things.
Management and Treatment
If you find that you are having an allergic reaction to your Christmas tree, here are a few things you can do to help.
First, if it is a severe reaction, get medical help right away.
Next, use over the counter antihistamine eye drops, creams, or nasal sprays as needed. Use a prescription inhaler as needed. And over the counter oral antihistamines like Benadryl as needed.
If you keep your tree in the living room, use an air filter next to the tree. People with sensitive skin should avoid direct contact with the tree, no matter what type of Christmas tree. Wear long sleeves and gloves when handling it, like when you put on the Christmas ornaments.
The most common Christmas trees are: Pine, Fir, Spruce, and Cypress.
If you know you are allergic to one type of tree, make sure that you source out a different tree for your home. Local tree growers will know best for your area for particular trees.
The Leyland Cypress Tree is considered a possible allergy friendly tree as it is a sterile hybrid so there is no pollen and no odor. However, all parts of the tree are poisonous. It can cause breathing difficulties, damage to the skin, and can harm small children and pets through touching or eating the needles.
When you bring it home, here are the best tips and tricks for minimizing your risk of allergic reactions.
- Before you bring the tree inside, shake it to remove any excess dead needles, dust, or pollen.
- If possible, wash the tree with water to rinse off any pollen or mold. Washing the tree and removing as many mold spores as possible minimizes the risk of mold flourishing in the warm house. Let it dry outside.
- Don’t forget to check for hitchhikers! Bugs, spiders, bees, even birds have been found in Christmas trees.
These are a great option for those with bad tree allergies as they are fake so you have no risk of pollen or sap exposure.
However, many fake trees are made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride). This is a known outgassing source which can cause issues for people with breathing problems.
That said, they are still a go-to safer option for people with a lot of asthma and allergy issues. There are many kinds of artificial tree manufactures that make all kinds of trees. Balsam Fir, white fir, Frasier fir, and Douglas fir are all popular artificial choices.
When you bring an artificial tree home, here are the best tips and tricks for minimizing your risk of allergic reactions.
- Let it outgas in the garage or shed outside after you first purchase the tree. This minimizes exposure to PVC.
- Dust the tree at the beginning and end of every holiday season. Rinse off the tree if possible. However, if you have a tree with built-in lighting, don’t add water. Just use a leaf blower to remove any dust and dust mites.
- Store your tree in a special tree bag. Don’t store it in cardboard as that encourages the growth of mold and mildew.
- If the tree has been in storage all year, check for hitchhikers in the tree that might have set up shop in the branches in the off-season.
Metal Christmas Trees
A modern alternative for a traditional tree is to purchase a metal tree! These come in all shapes in sizes from an ultra modern flat look, to ones that have branches, and even ones that are spiral in shape.
What’s great about a metal tree is that you get all of the perks of a traditional Christmas tree of hanging ornaments, garland, lights, even tinsel, but don’t have to worry about dust, pollen, or mold.
While this might not be to everyone’s taste, it is a super allergy friendly option!
Top Christmas Tree Tips
- Wear gloves while handling both real and artificial trees. This helps to prevent skin irritations and scratches.
- Wear long sleeves when handling the tree as well.
- Dust the tree ornaments before putting them on the tree and at the end of the season before placing them in storage.
- Vacuum or dust other holiday decorations like wreaths, garland, etc.
- Wash your holiday linens at the beginning and end of each holiday season.
- Avoid scented candles.
- Avoid flocking or artificial snow.
- Have an air purifier in the room with the tree to help clean the air throughout the holiday season.
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