One of the early signs the holidays are coming is the sight of Christmas trees popping up in homes around your neighborhood. For some, that means pulling an artificial tree out of a box; for others, it means heading to the nearby tree farm to pick up a real one. Whichever you prefer, there are important tips to keep in mind that can make the holidays a lot happier for the allergy sufferers in your life.
Let’s look at the pros and cons for each option, and see which yuletide centerpiece could be best for you and your family.
The Real Deal
Some people will settle for nothing less than a real tree for the holidays, and it’s understandable why. You get to take the family to pick one out – or even cut one down yourself – and they have a wonderful scent that fills your home.
While it may be easy to blame your fresh Christmas tree for the allergy symptoms that arrive with it, conifers are seldom an important allergen. Mold is likely to blame. In a 2016 Connecticut study, researchers observed a dramatic increase in mold spore count in the two weeks after a Christmas tree was brought indoors:
“The study found that the mold spore count was 800 spores per square meter for the first three days. Normal spore counts are less than 1,000 spores per square meter. However, the spore count rose after day four, reaching a maximum of 5,000 spores per square meter by day 14.”
With those findings, it’s no surprise the article suggests avoidance may be the best measure for people with mold allergies:
“If one is mold-allergic, running an air cleaner in the same room as the tree could theoretically reduce the mold exposure, but this has not been studied… For some people who are sensitive to odors, the aroma from the tree, which most people like, could irritate their nose and cause symptoms. For these people, avoiding live trees may be best.”
What else can be done? For starters, reduce the amount of time that the tree is in your home by bringing the tree in just before Christmas and removing it the day after. The authors of a 2007 study suggested another simple solution: shaking as much debris as possible out of the tree before bringing it inside.
Elsewhere, those who have suffered from tree-related allergies have found some success in rinsing off the tree with a hose and sprayer, and then leaving the tree somewhere warm to dry for a couple of days before bringing it into the house. Using an air compressor to blow off debris might be an excellent alternative to avoid having to dry the tree out afterward.
And don’t forget: spray snow, like any aerosolized chemical, is an irritant that can cause reactions in your eyes, nose and lungs.
There are others who favor having an artificial tree to display their Christmas cheer. They’re easy to assemble, and come in so many different shapes and sizes. On top of that, there aren’t any pesky dry pine needles on the floor to clean up. Most importantly, once the holidays are over, you can store it and use it year after year. With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why this is a popular choice.
The first year with a new artificial tree should be allergy-free. How you store the tree year after year will affect the allergens that it may bring into your home in the following years. Just like anything else you store in your garage or attic until its next use, it sits there and gathers dust. Lots of dust.
Dust and dust mites are among the most common triggers of allergic reactions, as well as the most common cause of asthma in children, according to the ACAAI. Can you imagine how much dust your tree has gathered since last year? That’s why, before adorning that artificial tree with tinsel and lights, a thorough clean is a must.
Another potential allergen that could be lurking in your stored artificial tree: cockroach. Cockroaches thrive in nice dark and warm places, such as the cardboard box you may be storing your tree in. Cardboard boxes are not only considered a nice place to live by cockroaches – they’re also a food source for them.
An air compressor can be used to blow off accumulated allergens before retrieving the tree from your closet or attic. If you opt to spray down your artificial tree with a hose, be sure to let it thoroughly dry outside the home before bringing it in to avoid mold. It is also recommended that you swap out the cardboard box that your tree came in for a storage bag that is moisture, dust, and pet resistant.
So, which option is better? Well, it depends on a person’s sensitivities. If you’re unsure if you suffer from mold, dust, or cockroach allergies, the easiest way to find out is to ask your doctor to perform an allergy skin test. It’s quick, and you’ll have your results before you walk out of the office.
Beyond that, keeping the air clear by replacing filters and opening the occasional window should also help, regardless of which tree you choose.
By understanding the pros and cons of each option, and by learning more about the allergies that could be affecting you or your loved ones, you can help ensure the only sniffles during this holiday season are of the merry, heartfelt kind.