Could YOU be allergic to your Christmas tree Pines are haven for moulds

Bar humbug: The traditional pine could actually be ruining many people

Bar humbug: The traditional pine could actually be ruining many people”s Christmas by causing serious allergic reactions

Some elements of Christmas are certainly more appealing than others, but there is one part few of us do without: the tree.

With presents around the base and lights and decorations twinkling, it becomes the focal point of any home at this time of year.

Yet new research suggests that rather than enhancing the festive feel, the traditional Christmas pine tree may actually be making some people ill.

Christmas Tree Syndrome — as it is known — is caused by a number of different moulds that grow on these trees.

They are found on the trees naturally but they flourish and rapidly increase in number once inside our snug, centrally heated homes.

This came to light for the first time in a study conducted by allergy specialist Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky, who was interested to discover why respiratory illnesses peak around Christmas.

He asked colleagues at the Upstate Medical University in New York to provide clippings of bark and pine needles from the Christmas tree they’d had in their home.

He and his team found 53 different kinds of mould present on 23 samples, according to the research published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

These weren’t everyday mould — 70 per cent were of the type that can trigger asthma attacks, sneezing and a runny nose. ‘I do think this study is very significant,’ says Dr Adrian Morris, an allergy specialist from the Surrey Allergy Clinic.

‘It has been previously suspected that the Christmas tree might be causing allergies and allergy-triggered asthma in particular.

Before this study it was thought that the tree pollen or even the weed killer applied to trees could be responsible. Now we know that it’s the mould.

‘What is so interesting about this study is that the mould they found in highest quantities on the trees — aspergillus, penicillium, cladosporium and alternaria — are the moulds most likely to trigger allergies.’

Trigger: Moulds naturally occur on the pines, but flourish rapidly when brought into centrally heated environments of our homes

Trigger: Moulds naturally occur on the pines, but flourish rapidly when brought into centrally heated environments of our homes

These moulds can cause standard allergic rhinitis, leading to a streaming nose and sinus pain, but may also trigger an asthma attack.

‘Around 10 per cent of the people with allergy-based asthma have attacks triggered by mould, and cladosporium is one of the main culprits for this,’ says Dr Morris.

‘The number of cladosporium spores circulating often increase at this time of year anyway (it’s typically found among rotting leaves or compost heaps) and this can cause outbreaks of asthma attacks that lead to A&E departments being inundated with cases.’

The typical signs that your tree may be making you ill are if you suddenly have an asthma attack after the tree is brought indoors or if your nose suddenly starts running and you are sneezing, even though you don’t feel as if you have a cold.

Miserable experience: Mould from the pines can cause allergic rhinitis, sinus pain and even trigger an asthma attack

Miserable experience: Mould from the pines can cause allergic rhinitis, sinus pain and even trigger an asthma attack

/12/23/article-2077843-02FCE71E000005DC-661_468x324.jpg” width=”468″ height=”324″ alt=”Relief at hand: Experts recommend using sprays to alleviate the condition as they target the nasal passages where the reaction is triggered” class=”blkBorder” />

Relief at hand: Experts recommend using sprays to alleviate the condition as they target the nasal passages where the reaction is triggered

So if the finger of blame points to the tree what should you do about it

Packing away the fairy and binning the tree is quite an extreme measure — especially as they are far from cheap.

‘What you can do is to spray it with a mild bleach solution, as this will help kill off the mould,’ advises Dr Morris. ‘Do this before you take the tree into the house — and preferably when it is still wrapped up, as it will be easier. If you are suffering from mild sneezes or just a bit of a runny nose, then take antihistamines.

‘The nasal sprays are the best because they work directly on the nasal passages where the allergic reaction to the mould is triggered.’

The other option is to make do with an artificial tree instead. This is especially worth doing for parents who suffer from bad asthma or allergies.

‘Their children may be what we call atopic — prone to developing allergies — and they may become sensitised to mould if exposed to it early on,’ says Dr Morris.

‘If they get exposed to these moulds within the first year of their life, they may develop an allergy to them later on. Artificial trees are a safe option for allergy sufferers because they are made of plastic.

‘Artificial trees won’t develop mould and house dust mites (another common allergy trigger) won’t gather on them when they get thrown in the loft after Christmas.’

Fake trees may not deliver that lovely pine smell or create quite the same atmosphere as a real one. But if you’ve found yourself sneezing and wheezing recently, they’re a solution not to be sniffed at.

Did you know….
The carol In The bleak Midwinter started life as a poetry competition entry

The carol In The bleak Midwinter started life as a poetry competition entry