WHAT IT IS:
"It's actually pretty common. A lot of people have a lot of allergies, and they experience an increase of symptoms within two weeks of putting up their Christmas tree. They can have a variety of symptoms, runny nose, stuffy nose, coughing, fatigue," listed Debra Harman, MD, with AFC Doctors Express Urgent Care in Cary.
Dr. Harman explained the allergic reaction is usually the result of various molds found in the trees, although some can be allergic to the pine resin itself. A study conducted in 2011 by researchers at State University of New York found 70 percent of the molds in live Christmas trees cause some sort of reaction. Prior to that it was thought the allergies were caused by tree pollen and weed killer used on the trees, although medical professionals no longer believe this to be the case.
So how do you know if you're allergic to your tree or simply suffering from a cold? Dr. Harman said a good rule of thumb is if you've been experiencing symptoms for more than a week, you should get checked out. Or, you might want to seek treatment if you're like Becca Smith and tend to feel your worst when you're at home.
"About a week ago I started itching really badly, had some congestion, wasn't feeling very good. It would start in the morning when I'd wake up, then it would get better during the day. But, when I'd get home at night it would start again," Smith recalled.
Looking back, she realized that this seemed to be a pattern year after year around Christmas, shortly after her family would put up their live tree. It wasn't until this year that she finally sought treatment at AFC Doctors Express Urgent Care in Cary and learned it was an allergy and not a winter cold.
"It had never occurred to me. We've always done live Christmas trees," she remarked.
TREATING CHRISTMAS TREE SYNDROME:
After diagnosing Smith with "Christmas Tree Syndrome," Dr. Harman gave her medicine to help manage her symptoms. And while Harman advises people with this allergy or those prone to allergies avoid live trees altogether, she said those who are determined to still have a "real tree" can start on medicine earlier in future seasons to get a loading dose in their systems. That's Smith's plan, as she admits she's reluctant to give up what's a treasured tradition for her family.
"We do still have the tree. We're just kind of a diehard live Christmas tree family," she said with a smile.
And, because fake trees can collect dust, pet hair, and even mold and mildew depending on where they're stored, there are things you should watch out for when using an artificial tree, too.
TIPS ON PREVENTING CHRISTMAS TREE SYNDROME (From: American Christmas Tree Association and Prevention)
For Live Trees:
For Artificial Trees:
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