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Health

Could you have ‘Christmas tree syndrome’?

December 6th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Here’s how to tell if you’re allergic to your Christmas tree...

When our family tree gets put up and ceremoniously decorated, my mum often wheezes, and not because she’s inhaled her mince pie a little too fast. In a scrooge like move on nature’s part, it is actually possible to be allergic to your Christmas tree. Pareena Patel, LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, explains how this is feasible (side eyeing nature):

“While it’s uncommon, some people do experience allergies to Christmas trees. Studies have shown that up to seven per cent of people can experience a conifer allergy.

“It is the pollen within the pine that can cause an allergic reaction, similar to that of pollen within flowers and plants cause hayfever symptoms during the spring and summer months. If you experience a grass pollen allergy, you may be more susceptible to experiencing a Christmas tree allergy.”

A poll by Prevalin Allergy puts the number of Christmas tree allergy sufferers far higher, with 35 per cent of Brits reportedly experiencing hayfever-like symptoms around silly season, but how do you know if it’s your tree that’s bringing on those bunged up feels? Pareena advises a strategic approach to get to the bottom of seasonal allergies:

“You are more likely to experience symptoms if you have other allergies, most notably hayfever or asthma. As it is an unusual occurrence and of course symptoms appear over the winter period, many people may misdiagnose their symptoms as a cold or flu, associated with a congested nose, coughing and watery eyes. While a cold can have very similar symptoms to an allergy, it usually only lasts up to ten days, while an allergy can last for weeks or months.

“If you are unsure if it’s a Christmas tree causing a reaction, we would recommend keeping a diary of your symptoms, monitoring when you are in contact or proximity of festive spruces.”

Physicist Dr Brian Cox, who reports suffering from Christmas tree allergies, went one step further with his Christmas tree testing (as you might expect really), filling his house with a number of different Christmas tree species to determine which variety of conifer he was allergic to. Before you turn your front room into a tree nursery, here are some classic Christmas tree syndrome symptoms, why your tree is setting them off and how to minimise tree related reactions, because for most of us, dodging pine trees at this time of year is nigh on impossible.

Christmas tree allergy symptoms

If any of the following crop up after putting up your tree you could be suffering according to Pareena:

“The most common reactions are sneezing, wheezing and skin rashes. However, in most cases the reaction will be very similar to that of hayfever and therefore will include itchy, watery eyes, coughing, itchy or sore throat and a blocked nose.

“If you have asthma, your symptoms may become more frequent if you have a Christmas tree at home. You may experience tightness in your chest, wheezing and a shortness of breath.”

Christmas tree allergies are a particular problem for asthma sufferers according to Asthma UK, which is chiefly down to one allergy trigger...

Spoil spore-t

This less than wholesome fact revealed by Pareena will make you look at your lovingly decorated Christmas tree in a whole new light:

“Christmas trees often harbour mould and the warmth from inside your home can cause mould spores to multiply which increases the risk of an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.”

Asthma UK reports that mould triggers asthmatic symptoms and attacks for around 5.4 million people in the UK, so this isn’t something to be sniffed at, especially given that a study carried out by Upstate Medical University found that Christmas trees typically harbour 53 different types of mould. Delicious. If you’re chucking your real tree out of the window as you’re reading, it turns out that an artificial tree might not fare much better...

Why a fake tree isn’t a fix

I’m starting to ask what gives. Pareena underlines why going faux might not clear up your allergies:

“Artificial trees can gather mould and dust while in storage, which can cause allergic reactions too. House dust mites and mould fungus are particularly associated with perennial allergic rhinitis. Perennial allergic rhinitis is an allergic response, which is present all year round, typically as a result of fungal spores and dust.”

Before you cancel Christmas, you needn’t go without a tree if you’re an allergy sufferer - just take a few precautions to limit tree fever.

How to reduce your risk of reactions

Consider a different tree species

When picking out your tree the variety you go for could reduce your likelihood of allergic reactions. Apparently the Leyland Cypress is one to watch if you’ve got allergies as it’s a “sterile” hybrid species that doesn’t produce any pollen, which will be glad tidings if sneezing, watery eyes and itchy throats tend to accompany tree-time.

Cool it

Pareena emphasises that keeping your tree by a roaring fire won’t help matters:

“To reduce the risk of your Christmas tree affecting your asthma or causing an allergic reaction, keep trees in the coolest area of your house and hose them down before bringing them inside to wash away mould spores.”

Shake it

Let your tree dry if you’ve given it a wash and shake it out to reduce to release spores and dust before you bring it inside.

Bleach it

This one’s a slightly extreme measure but spraying your tree with a water and bleach solution kills mould spores yet won’t affect your tree, although if you have pets or young children this isn’t to be recommended for obvious reasons.

Glove it

Dust off decorations and consider wearing gloves when decorating the tree to reduce skin rashes and the possibility of other allergic reactions. You’ll feel pretty fancy as you hang your baubles too.

Treecycle it

Once the festivities are over don’t leave you real tree hanging about. Check out where your local tree recycling drop off points are and give it a new lease of life while you breathe easy.

Pack it away

If you’ve got an artificial tree, pack it away carefully in sealed bags in a cool, dry space to avoid dust and mould spores accumulating throughout the year.

Furnish your first aid kit

Don’t get caught short when the GP or pharmacy is closed. Ensure that you have all the inhalers you need if you’re asthmatic and remember to use them pre-tree exposure, alongside any other medications in your asthma care plan. Have antihistamines to hand if you’re allergic, and Pareena has a few other suggestions if you experience hayfever-esque symptoms:

“Some people find that putting a smear of Vaseline inside each of your nostrils may ease soreness and stop spores and pine pollen in their tracks.

“Also, while you can take measures to protect yourself at home, you might not be able to do the same when out and about or at work. In this case, you should speak to your pharmacist who can recommend ways to alleviate your symptoms.

LloydsPharmacy Allergy Reliever, £19.99, uses red light therapy in order to suppress the cells that release histamines which can help to reduce the allergy symptoms. The device is both portable and lightweight which is great if you need to cart it about over the Christmas period too.”

Putting lights on the tree just took on a new meaning. If all else fails, go Scandi style and experiment with paper or wooden trees. The vibes will still be hyggely only you won’t be struggling to see as you open your presents.

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