It’s the season of runny noses, and many of us will be quick to blame our sniffles on colds, flu or even COVID.
But there might be another cause — your Christmas tree. That’s because real trees can harbor fungi and pollen.
Both are known allergens, meaning people vulnerable to them can be left battling cold-like symptoms if exposed, as well as red, swollen and itchy skin.
It can be a particular problem for asthmatics, who may notice flare-ups during the festive period.
Pollen can stick to a tree during the spring then hitch a ride into homes at Christmas, while fungi can grow rapidly in the cold and damp haven of a Christmas tree farm.
Additionally, a single tree can carry more than 50 species of mold, with varieties such as Aspergillus, Penicillium and Cladosporium most likely to trigger allergies.
Mold thrives in warm, wet and humid conditions. So once a tree is brought inside, mold production can skyrocket.
During the first three days inside, levels are around 800 spores per cubic meter of air, according to Dr Samuel White, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University, who has spent years researching the immune system and allergies.
But after two weeks, the toll can hit 5,000 per cubic meter of air, he told MailOnline.
What can you do to manage Christmas tree syndrome symptoms?
- Check trees for fungi before bringing indoors
- Water trees regularly to prevent dehydration and mold growth
- Ensure home is properly ventilated to prevent the spread of spores
- Sterilize tree by washing it with bleach to rid it of mold
- Invest in plastic tree to avoid any allergies
- Select Fir trees, such as Douglas and Fraser, which produce fewer allergens than spruce or pine
‘They thrive in warm, wet, and humid conditions, and their presence is not limited to Christmas trees,’ Dr White said.
‘These molds can exist outdoors in soil, decaying vegetation and indoor spaces with moisture issues,’ said Professor Philippe Wilson, an expert in medical technologies innovation at Nottingham Trent University.
‘While some strains may be harmless, others have the potential to produce mycotoxins, which can be harmful to human health,’ he told MailOnline.
Some people are more susceptible to ‘Christmas tree syndrome’.
Individuals with pre-existing allergies, such as asthma or hay fever, are more likely to get a sniffle from a slightly moldy tree.
Dr Adrian Morris, an allergy specialist based at the Surrey Allergy Clinic, told MailOnline that taking antihistamines to help relieve symptoms.
However, there are ways to avoid having your Christmas ruined by mold spores.
Meticulously inspecting the tree for fungi before bringing it indoors, regularly watering it to prevent dehydration and mold growth and making sure your home is properly ventilated can help prevent the spread of spores, said Dr White.
Sterilizing the tree by ‘washing it down with bleach or Milton’ is another way of ridding the tree of mold before it is brought inside and decorated, according to Dr Morris.
Equally just investing in a plastic tree will help avoid any allergies. But Dr Morris warns storing a plastic tree somewhere that is damp can cause problems of its own.
Selecting tree varieties of trees which have ‘lower allergenic potential’ is another option, Professor Wilson said.
‘Fir trees, such as Douglas and Fraser, are known for producing fewer allergens compared to spruce or pine,’ he noted.