Christmas Tree Syndrome: If your sparkly conifer has you feeling a little itchy, you are not alone

Seven per cent of people with allergies saw a spike in coughing, wheezing and itchy rashes when exposed to the mold that comes with Christmas trees, study finds.

Nick Beare 3 minute read December 17, 2021
Cleaning the tree before you it goes indoors is also good practice to cut down on dust and potential mold. Christmas tree in woods

Cleaning the tree before you it goes indoors is also good practice to cut down on dust and potential mold. GETTY

While some people might just act like they have an aversion to the holiday season, others may have a real allergy that could make Christmas a little less merry and bright.

“Christmas Tree Syndrome” is an allergic reaction to mold growing on your Christmas tree that can cause symptoms act up if you’re someone who already suffers from allergies over several seasons.

Back in 1970, Dr. Derek Wyse published a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that found approximately seven per cent of people with allergies or a history of respiratory issues saw a spike in symptoms when exposed to conifers at home or school.

The study found that, “Scrapings from pine and spruce bark yielded large numbers of Penicillium, Epicoccum and Alternaria, but these failed to become airborne.”

Wyse’s results were ultimately inconclusive because the type of mold he found varied from home to home. But either way, his study revealed that a Christmas tree allergy was indeed a thing.

Then in 2011, researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University published a study that looked at 28 trees in 28 different homes and found 53 species of mold — 70 per cent of the samples were potentially harmful.

Mold is the reason you’re coughing and sneezing

That same study showed that mold spores in an apartment increased from 800 per cubic meter before a live Christmas tree was brought in, to 5,000 spores per cubic meter after the tree had been inside for two weeks.

If you do have a reaction, symptoms are generally the same as those with a pollen of typical seasonal allergy. Coughing, wheezing and stuffy nose are common, according to The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. And sometimes, symptoms can show up in the form of a rash or itchy, red bumps.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be hauling your fresh tree to the curb a week before Christmas and replacing it before the kids notice.

Watercolor Christmas tree with red car and present boxes on white background.

Try these tips below before hauling off your Christmas tree. GETTY

But know that the Christmas tree bundling and transportation process can create ideal conditions for moisture and mold, so it’s not a bad idea to let your tree dry out in a covered outdoor area for awhile before giving it a good shake, and bringing it into the house. Cleaning the tree before you it goes indoors is also good practice to cut down on dust and potential mold. Using an air purifier, getting rid of the tree sooner than normal and using a leaf blower on the tree before you put it up can also help. You could also consider cutting the tree down yourself to avoid the bundling and transportation process that breeds mold.

The Wexner Medical School also suggests upgrading how you store your tree stand and decorations to cut down on dust mites that might collect over the rest of the year.

Of course, you could also buy an artificial tree and not have to worry as much. But that decision could be considered naughty list material in some households — and not nearly as fun.

Nick Beare is a Toronto-based freelance writer. He can be reached here.

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