Do Christmas Trees Make You Sneeze and Wheeze?

by Christine Haran

Some people spend the fall eagerly awaiting the piney smell and warm glow of a live Christmas tree. Others who celebrate Christmas, find indoor trees, not to mention greenery-draped mantles and cinnamon-scented candles, bring little more than a runny nose and a tight feeling in their chest.

For the millions of Americans living with allergies and/or asthma, the holiday season can be as challenging to get through as the height of ragweed season. And holiday parties and an abundance of homemade foods can pose extra problems for people with food allergies. But allergists say that you don't have to hibernate until January just because you have allergies and/or asthma.

When it comes to the tree, there are a few ways to minimize the misery. While you may assume that pollen is the source of your congestion, Pamela Georgeson, MD, an allergist with the Kenwood Allergy and Asthma Center in Chesterfield Township, Michigan and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), points out that mold is the true culprit in a cut tree.

"Most trees are cut in October and stored, so they have a lot of mold from being out in the rain and slush, and mold can be a trigger for allergies and asthma," Dr. Georgeson explains. "The best suggestion is to use an artificial tree, but if you do get a live tree, try to shake it out and then dry it out for a week or so before you bring it indoors."

According to AAAAI, some tree retailers have shaking machine that can help rid your tree of mold. You'll also want to shake and dry out live wreaths and greenery you might use for decorating.

Mold and dust can also accumulate on artificial trees, wreaths and greenery in storage, so make sure you clean these items thoroughly after you unpack them. Wash fabric decorations in hot water and soap, and wipe down plastic, tin, glass or ceramic snowmen to eliminate dust.

Other potential holiday allergens include strong scents from potpourri and candles. And asthma can be triggered by smoke from a fireplace in a poorly ventilated room.and, of course, holiday stress.

If you're traveling to a home with decorations, or pets, that might trigger a reaction, take your medicine with you. It's especially important that people with food allergies bring along epinephrine to control potentially life-threatening reactions.

"Education and avoidance are the only ways to cope with food allergy," Dr. Georgeson says. "So let your hosts know if you have a food allergy and bring your Epi-pen".a device that injects epinephrine."in case of accidental exposure."

Dr. Georgeson notes that accidental cross-contamination can be an issue with home-baked goods. For example, someone might bake cookies on a contaminated baking sheet, or pack nut-free cookies in a tin that once contained brownies with nuts and wasn't washed out afterwards.

But you don't have to skip the holiday season just because you have allergies and/or asthma.

"The biggest piece of advice is to make sure you have your medicines with you wherever you are," says Dr. Georgeson. "And if you have an allergy, alert the person who you're visiting, so you can enjoy a safe holiday."

Christine Haran has been a health journalist for more than seven years, and her work has appeared in Woman's Day, MAMM Magazine, Bride's Magazine, Publishers Weekly and other publications. In 2003, she received an Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award from the Society for Women's Health Research. Haran has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in english from Skidmore College.

Copyright © Christine Haran. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.