Pining for a pine: Allergy no-no?

Q: I am considering getting a live Christmas tree, but I'm worried about my allergies. Is a Christmas tree safe for an allergy-friendly living room?

Many people start to sniffle and wheeze around Christmas trees, giving them a bad holiday rap with allergy sufferers. Poor trees — it's generally not the tree itself causing the allergies. Instead, it's what's on the tree. No, you're not allergic to well-meaning Aunt Margaret's hand-painted moose-slippers. Actually, tacky ornaments aside, Christmas trees also accumulate allergens like dust and mold spores.

Why not pollen? Most Christmas trees are scotch pines or Douglas firs, trees which don't pollinate in the winter. And evergreen pollens have a thick, waxy outer coating, which makes them unlikely to be a significant allergen.

But, mold is a frequent culprit. Many Christmas trees are cut several months beforehand, and then left out in the winter rain, an ideal breeding ground for mold. (See why you should feel sorry for them?)

It's not just live Christmas trees, though. Artificial trees have their own set of blues. Depending on how they are stored during the year, they can also be prone to collecting dust and mold. Dusty attics and damp basements are not good places for allergy sufferers, and the porous surface of an artificial tree can bring all those nasty allergens into the home along with holiday spirit.

So how can you enjoy a bright and cozy tree while staying sneeze and sniffle free?

  • If you use a live tree, shake it out thoroughly, and let it dry out for a few days before you bring it indoors.
  • If you use an artificial tree, make sure to dust and clean it thoroughly (outside!) before installing it in the house. For storage, make sure that it's kept clean and dry, preferably sealed in a plastic bag.

And don't forget, holiday decorating can cause all kinds of allergy flare-ups. Don't always blame it on the tree! Decorations stored in attics and basements can also be covered in dust, mold spores, or dust mite allergens. Wash your hands thoroughly after unpacking them, and clean them thoroughly before putting them up. Actually, forget washing your hands

2 thoughts on “Pining for a pine: Allergy no-no?

  1. Rixhard December 10, 2005 / 1:25 pm

    Say it's winter, I have no tree, but I sneeze like crazy everywhere. Is pollen still a valid excuse given the season?

  2. Anonymous December 12, 2005 / 6:49 am

    Unless you live in a very moderate climate, probably not. You can check your daily pollen count on by entering your zip code into the widget at the left of the page.
    Given the season, your sneezing is probably caused by dust (an indoor allergen) or mold spores (which can be indoors or out).”

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