Christmas Tree Syndrome and Asthma

Christmas Tree Syndrome and Asthma
Christmas Tree Syndrome and Asthma
Do you suffer from upper respiratory problems and asthma when Christmas comes around each year? It’s possible you could be suffering from Christmas Tree Syndrome (CTS). CTS may sound like a joke, but it’s a real medical problem particularly associated with live Christmas trees.

Christmas Tree Syndrome (CTS)
Christmas Tree Syndrome (CTS) was first discovered in 2011 by Dr. Lawrence Kurlandsky. He was curious about why respiratory illnesses seem to peak around Christmastime. At the Upstate Medical University in New York, Dr. Kurlandsky conducted a study to find the cause of the spike of respiratory illnesses during the holiday season.

The study showed that respiratory illnesses were common across all age groups in the days and weeks before and after Christmas. Dr. Kurlandsky’s group studied clippings from 28 Christmas trees to use in microbiological studies. The tests resulted in some unpleasant surprises.

Study Results
The study results showed that the peak in holiday respiratory illnesses is caused by molds found on Christmas trees. Another study found 53 different types of mold carried by the trees. Some of the molds are known to cause respiratory problems in sensitive individuals:

• Aspergillus: is dangerous, especially for those who have compromised immune systems
• Penicillium: which is used to make penicillin, can cause allergic reactions
• Cladosporium: a common mold, which is often responsible for allergy symptoms and skin infections.

Researchers also took mold spore counts in homes that had Christmas trees. When the live tree was first put up, mold spore counts were steady at about 800 spores per cubic meter of air. However, each day after that, mold spore counts began to increase, and reached 5,000 spores per cubic meter in two weeks. The acceptable limit of mold spores is about 700 spores per cubic meter. This dramatic increase in mold spores is responsible for Christmas Tree Syndrome.

Mold is carried on the tree’s bark and needles, and is released when the tree is set up indoors, where it’s warm.

Christmas trees not only carry mold, but their needles and sap can also trap pollen (such as grass and other pollens) and other particulates that can increase allergy and asthma symptoms in a warm indoor environment. One more note—any holiday decorations that use live pine boughs can also cause Christmas Tree Syndrome.

Why Do Christmas Trees Carry Mold?
The fir and pine trees that are popular for the holidays are often harvested weeks before Thanksgiving. After harvest, they are then baled and stored before they’re trucked and delivered to local Christmas tree sellers. Storage and transportation may entrap moisture in the trees, creating just the right environment for mold to grow and spread. According to KIRO-TV, as many as 35% of residents in the U.S. and the U.K. experience an increase in hay fever symptoms over the holidays.

CTS Symptoms
CTS can cause typical allergic reactions, including:
• Wheezing
• Coughing
• Itchy nose, throat
• Runny nose, itchy eyes
• Fatigue
• Restlessness
• Difficulty breathing

Tips to Avoid Christmas Tree Syndrome
Here are a few things you can try to cut down exposure to molds and other allergens that may be hiding in your Christmas tree:

1). Wash the tree outside or in the garage—give it a shower to remove mold and other allergens. Then give the tree a good shake. You can also use a leaf blower to help remove mold. Be sure to let the tree bark and needles dry (not dry out!) before taking the tree in the house.

2). Rather than washing the Christmas tree, you could wipe the trunk of the tree with water and bleach to remove mold and pollen. Again, you can also use a leaf blower to remove pollen.

3). Keep the tree up for a shorter period. Mold will increase the longer the tree stays inside your home. You might stick to the 12 Days of Christmas, or put the tree up a few days before Christmas and take it down a couple of days later.

4). You can use a HEPA air purifier in the room with the Christmas tree. An air purifier with a HEPA filter is helpful at removing mold spores and other allergens from the air.

5). Use an artificial tree, but with the understanding that fake Christmas trees can also cause allergy and asthma problems. Artificial trees contain chemicals that may cause allergy and asthma problems for those sensitive to chemicals. Fake trees can also harbor mold, dust and pollen when they’re stored. These allergens then become dispersed into the air when setting up and decorating the tree. It might be necessary to give your artificial tree a shower before decorating it for the holidays. A shower will wash off most of the mold, dust and other allergens. Be sure to let it thoroughly dry before decorating.

With a few precautions, you can lessen the amount of mold and other allergens harbored by your Christmas tree. In addition, antihistamines can help you make it sniffle free through the holidays. If you have asthma and allergies, be sure to take all your medications as prescribed. Talk with your doctor about additional precautions you can take to avoid Christmas Tree Syndrome over the holidays.

You Should Also Read:
Christmas Risks for Asthmatics
Asthma Holiday Survival Tips
Winter Asthma Control

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Sherry Vacik. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Sherry Vacik. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Sherry Vacik for details.