Christmas tree syndrome is a relatively new term that is used to describe allergies to Christmas trees, whether they are real or artificial. The allergen can be the tree itself or it can be something that is on the surface of the tree.
The symptoms of Christmas tree allergy are the same symptoms that an individual gets with classic cases of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) and/or allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies). These symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy throat, itchy eyes, watery eyes, redness of the eyes, sore throat, sinus congestion, sinus headaches, fatigue, and/or snoring. In individuals with asthma, Christmas trees may also exacerbate asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, and/or shortness of breath.
The causes of Christmas tree syndrome may include the pine pollen of the actual Christmas tree itself. It should be noted that pine pollen is fairly heavy and is not typically a major tree allergen when you compare it with other tree pollens such as maple, oak, elm, hickory, birch, etc. Despite it being less allergenic than other tree pollens, pine pollen can still however cause allergic rhinitis symptoms in sensitive individuals.
Natural Christmas trees are also known to carry more than 50 types of mold. Three-quarters of these molds are known to cause allergic rhinitis symptoms. It is also known that having a natural Christmas tree in one’s house will increase the amount of indoor mold since mold levels are higher in a room with a real Christmas tree as opposed to a room without a Christmas tree. Natural Christmas trees can also contain animal urine, pine tree sap, pesticides, insect droppings, and pollutants on them which may cause allergy-type symptoms in certain individuals. The scent of the terpenes found in pine tree sap can also trigger allergy symptoms, even though it is not technically an allergen, but rather an irritant.
Artificial Christmas trees may also have high levels of molds, but often have high levels of dust associated with them. Artificial Christmas trees also are often stored in dusty areas for prolonged periods of time. The dust that gathers on the surface of the trees may then play havoc with a sensitive person’s allergies. In addition, artificial Christmas trees may harbor insects, insect droppings, rodent urine, and rodent droppings which all may act as allergens that cause miserable allergy symptoms.
In addition to the Christmas tree itself, the decorations (e.g., ornaments, tinsel, garland, strings of lights, ribbon, pine cones, scented candles, poinsettias and other Christmas plants) may also possess allergens that may cause allergy symptoms.
The treatment of Christmas tree syndrome is to first remove the individual from the area in the house where the Christmas tree is located. Unfortunately, this is usually not possible because Christmas is a time to be with family members and most of the time that involves being in the room with the tree. If one is unable or unwilling to avoid exposure to the Christmas tree, one can use a variety of allergy medications to help alleviate the allergy symptoms. Oral antihistamines, oral decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, and/or nasal antihistamines are usually the initial treatment modalities in most allergic individuals. If other medications are needed, nasal anticholinergics and/or oral leukotriene antagonists can also be utilized.
Obviously, the prevention of Christmas tree exposure has the best outcome, but in the holiday spirit, the following things can help alleviate allergy symptoms in individuals who plan on putting up a Christmas tree. Some of the recommendations for minimizing allergy symptoms with Christmas trees may include cleaning the tree, keeping the tree outside, increase the ventilation of the room, minimize exposure to the tree, and/or use an alternative instead of a tree such as a Christmas “statue.” Christmas “candy cane,” etc.
The board certified allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area and we have been providing allergy and asthma care to this area for more than 50 years whether it is Christmas or not. Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. All of our offices offer on-site parking. For further convenience, our Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible. In addition, our McLean, VA office location offers a complementary shuttle that runs between this office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. For an appointment, please call one of our offices. Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, it is our mission to help alleviate your undesirable symptoms, so that you can enjoy a better quality of life. Black & Kletz Allergy is dedicated to providing the highest quality allergy and asthma care in an empathetic, relaxed, and professional environment.