Symptoms of Christmas Tree Allergies and How to Survive Them

Sally Painter
Reviewed by Dr. Vilma Ruddock
Christmas tree allergies

There is a wide range of symptoms for Christmas tree allergies. If you suffer from this type of allergic reaction during this joyous holiday season, there are a few things you can do to survive them.

Symptoms of Christmas Tree Allergies

Allergic reactions to live Christmas tree can occur almost immediately when the tree is brought into the home, or symptoms may take a few days to show up. 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 (generically) 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 during the holiday season, since there are several possible irritants found in live Christmas trees.

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 wonderful pine scent. There's not much you can do about that, but there are other factors you can control.

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.

Pine Pollen

Pollen and tree sap can contribute to allergic reactions in some people. The types of trees most likely to cause an allergic reaction include pine, spruce, and fir. Pine pollen is a well-known allergen, and many allergy sufferers cannot tolerate this tree pollen.

Accumulated Pine Pollen Allergy Culprit

Allergist Allen Meadows, MD of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that pine pollen is present only in the spring and not at Christmas. However, Alan S. Berger, M.D. of Berger Henry ENT Specialty Group reminds that 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.

Mold Spores

Kara Wada, MD of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains there are over 50 kinds of mold found in Christmas trees. Not only accumulated pollen, but dust can cling to the branches and create allergic reactions. Dr. Molly Martyn writing for the Star Tribune states most Christmas tree allergies are more likely due to the mold and dust harbored in the trees.

Mold Possible Cause of Holiday Season Respiratory Illnesses

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

Reduce Christmas Tree Mold Threat

You can greatly 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 into your home. Use a leaf blower to hasten the drying and get rid of any irritant debris hiding in the branches.

Other Possible Irritants

There are a few other possible causes to consider. To combat these, choose a tree from an organic farm that is as clean as possible.

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 regular 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 include, 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 as well as unconsciousness.
  • Dimethoate is another pesticide commonly used and is attributed to cause difficulties in breathing as well as tremors.

Dust Mites

Allergy Partners points out that dust mites can trigger allergic reactions to Christmas trees. A tree out in the open air is very 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 or field mice, birds and squirrels abandoned their perches, they can still leave 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

After you've done everything ,you can to get a clean, dry tree in a species that doesn't bother you, there are a few other tips to help you survive the holiday season with less sneezing. Give these ideas a shot.

Replace With Artificial Christmas Tree

One obvious solution to those allergic to live Christmas trees is to replace 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

There are several medications that can treat your symptoms if you cannot give up a live Christmas tree for an artificial one. Several suggestions for possible treatments for the symptoms of Christmas tree allergies include:

  • Allergy medications that include antihistamines and decongestants. 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

You can also make sure your home's air is as clean as possible. A HEPA air filter may greatly 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 warns people to never use tap water! Only use distilled or sterilized water.

Skin Rash Cream

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

Surviving a Christmas Tree Allergy

Depending on how severely you react to a live Christmas tree in your home, you may decide on another option. While an artificial tree doesn't have that special smell, you may decide it is a better choice than being miserable during the Christmas holiday.

Symptoms of Christmas Tree Allergies and How to Survive Them