‘Christmas tree syndrome’: Experts warn of the hidden dangers lurking this festive season

Dec 05, 2022
The nasty reaction is not only confined to real Christmas trees with the fake variety also potentially causing problems. Source: Getty Images.

Christmas is often described as the most wonderful time of the year, but as people across the globe prepare themselves for the festive season and begin putting up their Christmas trees, experts are warning people to be aware of Christmas Tree Syndrome.

As the name suggests, Christmas Tree Syndrome is caused by your Christmas tree which in some instances can trigger an allergic reaction that includes symptoms such as wheezing, sneezing, coughs, sore eyes and even potentially serious asthma attacks.

The nasty reaction is not only confined to real Christmas trees with the fake variety also potentially causing problems.

National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson, Professor Sheryl Van Nunen, said the danger lies in pollens and allergens that can be present in both variety of trees.

“Real Christmas trees like cypress and pine can collect high amounts of pollen from other plants before they are cut down, which can trigger asthma and hay fever symptoms once you bring them home,” Van Nunen said.

“Artificial trees can be a safe alternative but, if used year after year, they accumulate dust or mould, which may be invisible to the naked eye.”

Van Nunen also revealed that even decorating, “the most exciting part of the Christmas tree tradition”, is under threat as the decorations can “become dusty in storage”.

Before you toss out the Christmas tree in the hope of avoiding the scourge of Christmas Tree Syndrome, Van Nunen offered some advice to allergy and asthma sufferers.

“You can reduce the risks by simply hosing off the tree before you bring it in the house and letting it dry, as you will greatly reduce the amount of pollen and dust,” she said.

When it comes to live Christmas trees, in addition to hosing off the tree Van Nunen suggested moving the tree outside if allergy or asthma symptoms present themselves.

For artificial trees it’s a good idea to shake the tree outside before setting it up indoors. Van Nunen also advised households to “unpack your tree and decorations outside and vacuum them as you get them out of the box”.

Wiping down your artificial tree and any decorations with a damp cloth can also help remove dust.

“When you pack your tree and decorations away, use airtight plastic bags and sealed boxes so they collect less dust,” Van Nunen added.

Christmas Tree Syndrome aside, for the approximately one in nine people in Australia who have asthma it’s not just the threat of a dusty Christmas tree that presents problems.

Allergens in the air and even thunderstorms can have a detrimental affect on those impacted by asthma.

When it comes to managing asthma, whether it be at Christmas time or any other time of the year, National Asthma Council Australia Director and respiratory physician Professor Peter Wark recently told Starts at 60 that it’s important that “asthma is well controlled”.

“People with asthma should be able to take part in normal daily activities including exercise and their school or work lives should not be badly affected,” Wark said.

“This can be achieved in most people with asthma if they are taking their inhaled preventer correctly as prescribed.

“They should also have a written asthma action plan that tells them what inhalers they should be using and how and when to increase their treatment when things are not going well.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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