Christmas trees bring exciting surprises, like presents you rest beneath them and the myriad ornaments they collect throughout the years. However, they can also bring a peskier surprise: If you get a real fir tree for your living room, you can experience allergy symptoms as a result. Below, an allergist breaks down how to tell if you're allergic to your Christmas tree. Don't worry; there are a handful of things you can do to prevent allergies from completely 'grinching' your holiday season.
How to know if you're allergic to your Christmas tree
"If soon after putting up the Christmas tree, you start to have sneezing, asthma, hives or any other allergic reactions, it's the tree or what's on it," says Heather Moday, DO, is a leading immunologist/functional medicine doctor and the author of The Immunotype Breakthrough. It goes without saying that you should be cautious when it comes to experiencing things like sinus congestion, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, fever, and any other common COVID-19 symptoms. If these symptoms appear once you have come in contact with your tree, allergies are possible. However, getting tested for COVID-19 helps rule out the virus and protects those around you.
That said, your tree might have residual pollen—picked up from other trees and weeds—from where it was grown, Dr. Moday says. There could also be microscopic mold spores on the branches. When trees are brought inside, these pollen and mold allergens can be released into the air and cause reactions to those who might be sensitive. "It's uncommon to be allergic to pollen from pine and fir trees themselves. They just act as carriers," Dr. Moday says.
Some people are sensitive to the sap or resin from touching fir and pine trees and may develop an allergic reaction on their skin. Topical antihistamine cream can help soothe a rash that arose after touching a tree. The best way to avoid this reaction is to avoid touching the tree. If decorating your tree is important to you, consider wearing long, thick sleeves, gloves if you get a rash from the tree, and a mask if you experience sinus symptoms.
What to do if you're allergic to your Christmas tree
If you're experiencing allergies soon after setting up your tree or arriving at a family member's home—you have some options. First things first, don't touch the tree further and have someone else grab gifts so that you can keep a distance. Additionally, a HEPA air purifier could help reduce the potential irritants in the air, Dr. Moday says. If symptoms are mild, antihistamines, nasal rinses, and corticosteroid nasal sprays should keep things at bay while the tree is around. If you experience any difficulty breathing that worsens over a short period, you may have a more severe interaction and should contact a provider or go to an emergency room.
Another issue can arise from your holiday decor, Dr. Moday adds. Artificial trees, decorations, tree skirts, and lights are often stored in dusty, moldy basements and attics, so these can also add to the allergy burden. Try to shake the decor outside when you start to decorate. You can also let the allergens disperse further by leaving decorations in a dry area of your garage for a few days before bringing them in, Dr. Moday says. Make sure ornaments are kept in plastic containers and any fabric decorations washed before and after use.
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