Real and artificial trees can trigger asthma and allergy flare-ups that make the holidays a misery for some people.
Christmas tree allergies ― triggered by popular varieties like fir, hemlock, pine, or spruce ― are rare. But there are other allergens in the mix that can be triggering for people.
That’s because real trees often travel long distances to reach your local tree lot. Before the journey, they’re sprayed down with water, allowing mold to grow along the way, says J. Allen Meadows, MD, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and an allergist at AllerVie Health in Alabama.
Artificial trees, meanwhile, can release nasty chemicals that trigger allergy or asthma attacks right after they’re unwrapped, Meadows says. Each year after that, they can gather dust in storage that also causes symptoms to flare when they’re unpacked. Packing everything away in bags and boxes that are as airtight as possible may reduce dust but not eliminate it.
“Whether it’s artificial or a live tree, I like to air it out outside before I set it up in my house,” Meadows says. A leaf blower comes in handy, too, for blasting mold or dust off the tree before you bring it indoors.
Timing also matters. If you can hold off setting up a tree until after the first hard frost where you live, then you won’t risk pollen or ragweed getting on the tree when you put it outdoors to air out, he says.
And with a real tree, you need to resist the urge to put it up right after Thanksgiving, says Sharmilee M. Nyenhuis, MD, an asthma, allergy, and immunology specialist at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System. That’s because mold starts to build up after about a week inside your home.
If you can’t stand the thought of waiting until mid-December to put up a real tree, you may also be able to cut down on mold by spraying it with a solution of half water, half vinegar, she suggests. A vinegar solution can also remove mold from fake trees.
The same masks that people have been wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic can also come in handy for setting up and decorating the tree, Nyenhuis says. Wearing a mask to unpack ornaments, set up and decorate the tree, and handle any other seasonal decorations you take out of storage can help lessen symptom flares caused by mold and dust.
And you can also take steps to prevent asthma and allergy attacks by working with your doctor to review and revise your medication as needed to address any exposure to mold or dust from the tree, Meadows says.
“The bottom line is if your asthma and allergies are well controlled, you should be able to tolerate places with live trees,” he says.
J. Allen Meadows, MD, allergist, AllerVie Health, Alabama; past president, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Sharmilee M. Nyenhuis, MD, asthma, allergy, and immunology specialist, University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System.
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