‘Christmas Tree Syndrome’: Not as Pleasant as It Sounds

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Sneezing and sniffling this season? It could be your Christmas tree’s fault, a new study suggests.

So-called Christmas tree syndrome can cause wheezing, coughing, itchy nose, watery eyes, fatigue and problems sleeping — triggered by breathing in spores from the mold growing on Christmas trees. According to the new study, for which doctors and staff of SUNY Upstate Medical University provided clippings from their own trees, such mold is common in conifers and could help explain peaks in respiratory illness around Christmas.

The mold grows on trees naturally, but proliferates once you get the tree into your toasty, warm living room. The U.K.’s Telegraph reported:

The team, writing in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, also reported another study which found that after a Christmas tree has been on display for a fortnight, the number of airborne mould spores increases from 800 per 35 cubic feet to 5,000.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean your tree is going to make you sick. “If you and your children don’t have any obvious allergies, then it is probably not going to bother you,” said lead researcher Dr. Lawrence Kurlandsky. But if your family is sensitive to other allergens, he offers a bit of guidance:

  • Wash your tree. Check whether the nursery where you bought your tree has tree-washing services; if not, do it yourself at home. Hose off your tree outside and let it dry before bringing it into the house.
  • Toss the tree after Christmas. Since mold spores may accumulate the longer your tree is in the house, consider getting rid of it first thing on the 26th.
  • Purify the air. Put a household air purifier in the same room as the tree to help remove allergens from the air.
  • Go artificial. It won’t fill your house with that glorious piney scent, but a fake tree won’t trigger allergies either — that is, as long as you keep it stored properly, protected against mold and dust.

MORE: Why Air Fresheners Can Trigger Respiratory Problems