If you have red, watery eyes, an itchy nose or can’t stop sneezing over the next few weeks, the holidays may be to blame. Don’t laugh. Apparently, “Christmas tree syndrome” is real and is caused by mold, pollen, dust, mites and other irritants that hitch a ride home on your Christmas tree or lay in wait with the decorations you stored last year. “There’s a number of ‘cutely’ named phenomenon that occur – there’s thunderstorm asthma, back-to-school rashes. We have these clinical observations that come from what’s going on in the environment,” said Patricia Lugar, a specialist in allergy and immunology at Duke University School of Medicine.
The risk can be especially high for those with allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems. Damp environments, like crawl spaces, attics and basements found in the Southeast, can make the problem worse, she said, especially for allergy shot patients. “We generally counsel people, particularly allergy shot patients, if you’ve been digging around in the crawlspace or the basement or your attic, wait 24 to 48 hours before you come to get your shot and let things settle down, just to make sure you’re not going to have a problem,” she said. Cardboard and paper boxes can cause the biggest problem, she said.
“Paper boxes are a great recipe for insects, they are a great recipe to become damp and hold dampness, become moldy. Plastic is really the way to go. Just get a bunch of those big plastic bins. They can seal out insects and cockroaches, and they’re also really resistant to moisture.” Don’t be afraid to throw out something either, especially if there is visible moisture damage, discoloration or a musty smell, she said. “The last thing you want to do is open up this incubator of mold spores, and it all goes into your face or you release it into the air, because it’s been sealed in this plastic box,” she said.
10 TIPS FOR A CLEAN CHRISTMAS
- Use a damp cloth to wipe your decorations when removing them from storage
- Avoid scented sprays, candles and other decorations
- Stick with metal and plastic ornaments, and give them a warm, soapy bath, then air dry
- Protect fabric decorations or heirlooms by keeping them in a plastic, vacuum storage-type bag
- Store decorations and artificial trees in plastic bags or bins, not cardboard
- Wear a long-sleeve shirt, gloves and – for especially sensitive people – an N95-rated dust mask to handle the tree or dig through storage
- Remove visible pollen from the tree with a leaf blower
- Wipe the tree’s trunk with a solution of 1 part bleach to 20 parts lukewarm water
- Spray the tree with water and let it dry in an enclosed area outside the home, such as a garage, to dry
- Ditch the poinsettia; it belongs to the rubber family and contains compounds similar to those in latex