Christmas Tree Allergies: Spotting Symptoms & Coping

Reviewed by Dr. Vilma Ruddock
Women blowing her nose with allergies during holidays

Allergies can be brutal. This is especially true when it comes to having a pine tree allergy during the holiday season. Christmas trees can leave you with itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, and coughing. Learn the symptoms of Christmas tree allergies and how you can combat them during the holidays.

Christmas Tree Allergy Symptoms

Allergic reactions to live Christmas trees or Christmas tree syndrome can occur almost immediately when the tree is brought into the home, or symptoms may take a few days to appear. Some people respond within 24 hours, while others may not react for several days. Many of the symptoms of an allergy to Christmas trees are generally similar to those of hay fever sufferers.

  • Skin rashes that often come and go

  • Constant sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion

  • Watery eyes that also itch

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing

Possible Causes of Christmas Tree Allergies

There's no one factor responsible for allergic reactions to real Christmas trees during the holiday season, since several possible irritants are found on live Christmas trees and even on fake Christmas trees. Explore a few different potential causes of your allergic reaction.

Accumulated Pine Pollen

Pollen can contribute to allergic reactions in some people. The types of trees most likely to cause an allergic reaction include pine and fir.

  • Pine pollen is a well-known allergen, and many allergy sufferers cannot tolerate this tree pollen.

  • Alan S. Berger, M.D. of Berger Henry ENT Specialty Group, states pollen can accumulate and stick to branches and pine needles and can be released when brought inside. If a person has an acute allergy to pine pollen, this could account for an allergic reaction to a live Christmas tree.

Multiple Mold Spores

Another significant cause of Christmas tree allergies is mold. In fact, several medical professionals and studies agree that mold accumulation can lead to allergies.

  • Kara Wada, MD of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains that there are over 50 kinds of mold found in Christmas trees. Not only accumulated pollen, but mold can cling to the tree and create allergic reactions.

  • Dr. Molly Martyn reporting for the Star Tribune, states most Christmas tree allergies are more likely due to the mold and dust harbored in the trees.

  • Upstate Medical University reported on a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology that Christmas trees may cause respiratory illnesses that peak during the Christmas holiday season. The study identified a range of molds found in conifers used as Christmas trees. The group also noted that the warmer environment of homes could cause mold spores to release into the air.

Chemicals

Some tree farms may use chemicals to control various pests and diseases. These have been known to cause both eye and skin irritation. The potency of many pesticides is lessened due to steady rain and the natural ultraviolet light the sun produces.

  • The Organic Consumers Association explains how mono-crop tree farmers use pesticides on their Christmas trees. The type of pesticides listed includes Roundup (glyphosate) that has been associated with nausea and even chest pains.

  • Another pesticide mentioned is organophosphates di-syston 15-G Prganopho, known to cause convulsions in some people and unconsciousness.

  • Dimethoate is another pesticide commonly used and is attributed to causing difficulties in breathing, as well as tremors.

Aromatic Pine Scent

Allergy Partners points out that some allergic reactions could be to terpenes, a natural characteristic of a Christmas tree, and the compound responsible for that beautiful pine scent. Sadly, there isn't much you can do to combat this, beyond getting an artificial tree.

Little boy decorating a Christmas tree

Tree Sap

A more likely allergen is the tree sap. If this potential irritant gets on your skin, it can cause an allergic reaction. This is especially true if you're sensitive to any of the Christmas tree species. If you're having problems, avoid pine species, and don't handle the tree too much.

Dust Mites

Allergy Partners points out that dust mites can trigger allergic reactions to Christmas trees. A tree out in the open air is susceptible to an invasion of microscopic dust mites, especially if the season has been damp.

Insect and Animal Droppings

According to Allergy Partners, even if insect pests have been eliminated via chemical spraying, field mice, birds and squirrels who have abandoned their perches can still leave their droppings behind. These may seem insignificant, but the droppings left on limbs and pine needles can cause allergic reactions.

How to Survive Christmas Tree Allergies

Are you succumbing to Christmas tree allergies? There are a few tips to help you survive the holiday season with less sneezing. Give these ideas a shot.

Reduce Christmas Tree Mold Threat

You can significantly reduce the amount of mold by hosing off the tree and allowing it to dry in the sun for a day or two before taking it into your home. Use a leaf blower to hasten the drying and to eliminate any irritant debris hiding in the branches.

Get an Allergy-Friendly Tree

If pine pollen is the big contender in causing your allergies, you can get a tree with little or no pine pollen. No one ever said your Christmas tree had to be a pine tree.

Set Your Tree Up Outside

If you love the look of a real Christmas tree but can't take the pollen, then just set it up outside or on a patio, preferably in front of a large window. You can enjoy your decorations and the joy the tree brings, while avoiding the pollen altogether.

Replace With an Artificial Christmas Tree

One obvious solution to those allergic to live Christmas trees is to replace them with an artificial tree. You'll need to check your artificial tree each year to ensure it hasn't accumulated dust (dust mites) or mold.

Medications to Relieve Allergies

Several medications can treat your symptoms if you cannot give up a live Christmas tree for an artificial one. Suggestions to treat the symptoms of Christmas tree allergies include decongestants and allergy medications with antihistamines.

  • You can try a few over-the-counter (OTC) medications to see if they offer any relief from the symptoms.

  • If OTC medicines don't work, it's time to consult your doctor for possible remedies and/or an allergy prescription.

  • Some people turn to homeopathic remedies, such as herbal pills and extract/tinctures.

HEPA Filters

Make sure your home's air is as clean as possible. A HEPA air filter may significantly improve the air quality. When you vacuum up those needles, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter system too.

Neti Pot

Neti pots are a common natural sinus remedy. You can use a neti pot two times a day to help alleviate your sinus congestion. You'll fill the neti pot with distilled or sterilized water. Holding the spout of the neti pot in one nostril, the neti pot directs the flow of distilled water through the sinus cavities to loosen and dislodge the mucus. USA Today warned people never to use tap water! Only use distilled or sterilized water.

Ayurvedic Copper Neti Pot

Skin Rash Cream

Some people develop a skin rash as an allergic reaction to Christmas tree sap and/or pine needles. An over-the-counter steroidal, such as hydrocortisone cream, can often relieve this type of skin rash.

Protect Your Skin

When you are decorating or cleaning the tree, make sure to wear clothing that covers all of your skin. This can help avoid any sap or pollen getting on your skin and causing irritation. You'll also want to be sure to change your clothing after you touch the tree as well.

Make an Alternative Christmas Tree

If you don't want to give up the real Christmas tree for a fake one, then think about getting creative. Rather than having a live Christmas tree indoors, you might turn your computer or a bookshelf into an impromptu Christmas tree. You could even pile your books to create a homemade Christmas tree. The opportunities are truly endless.

Surviving a Christmas Tree Allergy

Depending on how severely you react to a live Christmas tree in your home, you may decide on other decor options. These ways of coping with Christmas tree allergies may alleviate your issues, but if not, there are plenty of other ways to make your home festive in lieu of decorating a Christmas tree.

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Christmas Tree Allergies: Spotting Symptoms & Coping