Christmas Tree Syndrome: A Guide to Understanding, Preventing, and Treating

If you enjoy the smell and sight of a real Christmas tree in your home, it’s important to be aware of potential health risks. Some people may experience what’s called Christmas tree syndrome, which is a seasonal allergic reaction to mold spores from the tree. In this blog post, we’ll explain what Christmas tree syndrome is, its causes, how to prevent it, and ways to treat it.

What is Christmas tree syndrome?

Christmas tree syndrome isn’t a medical diagnosis, but a term for symptoms some people may have when exposed to real or artificial Christmas trees. Symptoms can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Asthma attacks
  • Skin rashes

About 7% of the population, according to Ohio State University, suffers from Christmas tree syndrome. Symptoms vary depending on sensitivity and mold spore levels. Some experience mild symptoms for a few days, while others endure severe symptoms lasting weeks.

What causes Christmas tree syndrome?

Mold is the main culprit behind Christmas tree syndrome. Mold, a fungus thriving in moist, dark places, grows on live trees during transportation. When brought indoors, shaking or moving the tree releases airborne mold spores. Artificial trees, especially if stored in damp areas, can also harbor mold.

Other factors contributing to Christmas tree syndrome include:

  • Pollen on tree needles
  • Terpenes causing respiratory irritation
  • Pesticide treatments leading to allergic reactions
  • Dust mites residing on trees or ornaments

How to prevent Christmas tree syndrome?

Preventing Christmas tree syndrome involves reducing exposure to mold and allergens:

  • Choose a fresh tree: Opt for a tree with green, non-falling needles, avoiding brown spots or signs of mold or insects.
  • Clean before bringing indoors: Remove dust and debris with a leaf blower or hose. Spraying a diluted bleach solution kills mold spores.
  • Limit indoor time: Keep the tree indoors for no more than two weeks to minimize mold spore production.
  • Avoid heat sources: Keep the tree away from fireplaces, radiators, or direct sunlight to prevent mold growth and terpene release.
  • Use an air purifier: Place a HEPA filter air purifier near the tree to remove mold spores and other allergens.
  • Clean artificial trees: Vacuum artificial trees and ornaments with a HEPA filter. Wipe with a damp cloth or a diluted bleach solution.
  • Proper storage: Store artificial trees and ornaments in sealed containers away from moisture and heat after the holidays.
  • Consider alternatives: Explore non-allergenic artificial trees or alternative decorations if Christmas trees consistently trigger symptoms.

How to treat Christmas tree syndrome?

Consult your doctor if you develop symptoms. Treatment options may include:

  • Antihistamines: Block histamine effects, reducing sneezing and itching.
  • Nasal corticosteroids: Reduce nasal inflammation, easing congestion and runny nose.
  • Bronchodilators: Relax and open airways for those with asthma attacks.
  • Allergy shots: Immunotherapy to build tolerance and reduce symptoms over time.

Taking preventive and treatment measures can help minimize Christmas tree syndrome’s impact, allowing you to enjoy the tradition safely. Consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice based on your symptoms and medical history.