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Is Christmas Tree Syndrome Real? Or is it fake?

My opinion - and tips for the holidays if you have allergies

Herald-News Features Editor Denise M. Baran-Unland
Herald-News Features Editor Denise M. Baran-Unland

I first learned about Christmas Tree Syndrome last year when AdvantaClean, a national franchise of indoor air quality, sent a news release about it.

While an actual "syndrome" per se may not exist, a number of "warm-fuzzy" holiday traditions can definitely cause allergies to flare.

As one of the most allergic people under the sun, I can vouch for it.

For instance, I love a real Christmas tree – from chopping it down ourselves to the pine scent that infuses the living room.

However, I am allergic to pine so I cannot decorate or water the tree. Unfortunately, I've often been the person keeping the tree watered. I've also been was the one de-ornamenting the tree in the new year and carrying it out to the burn pile.

Plus, we didn't want the cats nibbling on the dropped needles. And I'm allergic to mold, which can live on these trees, some allergists say. So we went "fake" years ago.

Being asthmatic, I also skip the spray scents. Scented candles are fine for me – but hazardous in a house with cats.

AdvantaClean offered some additional tips for keeping allergies in control during the holidays.

Live trees

• Hose off the tree to remove pollen and mold and let dry before you bring it inside.

• Wear gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid sap touching your skin.

• Wipe down the trunk of the tree with a solution of one part bleach, 20 parts lukewarm water.

Artificial trees

• Wrap the tree securely, store in a cool and dry place.

• Wipe down the tree and ornaments before setting up.

• Reduce the amount of spray snow to frost your tree and windows. Aerosolized chemicals can cause irritant reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs.


• Clean decorations before use. They’ve been stored away for 11 months in garages, basements or attics, known hangouts for mold and dust mites.

Wipe those decorations off thoroughly with a damp cloth when you take them out of storage.

After the holidays, pack decorations in plastic bags, or bins, not cardboard. Cardboard is notorious for collecting dust and promoting mold growth.

Forget scented sprays

Scented sprays lead to irritated noses and throats, exacerbating respiratory issues.

Instead, try a natural potpourri of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peels, simmering on the stove, to keep home smelling fresh and festive.

Unless, of course, you're allergic to citrus and the above-mentioned spices.

Snuff scented candles

Candles may lead to respiratory distress in people with severe allergies or asthma.

Some scented, petroleum-based candles produce soot, as well as irritating particles and gasses.

Try Substituting candles made from soy, hemp, or beeswax or LED “flickering lights."

Punt the poinsettias

But because it's a members of the rubber tree family, people allergic to latex could, potentially, develop anything from a rash to severe breathing problems, just by touching or inhaling the allergen. 

The plant can also be mildly toxic to cats and dogs, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or skin or eye irritation.

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