There’s plenty to love about having a live Christmas tree in your home. They’re better for the environment than artificial trees and they give your home that pine-fresh scent. Unfortunately you aren’t the only one who loves the scent of freshly-cut balsam for the holidays. Christmas trees often harbor hazardous allergens that can greatly reduce the quality of air in your home and cause allergic reactions for you and your loved ones.

If you and your family have been coughing and sneezing nonstop since putting up your tree, you might be experiencing Christmas tree syndrome — an actual allergic reaction to mold spores that piggyback on live trees. The reaction is upper respiratory in nature, and sometimes quite severe. It’s hard to believe a beautifully trimmed tree that fills could make your family sick, but it’s not a totally uncommon occurrence.

Although Christmas trees do not produce pollen in the winter, mold, dust, pollen and other allergen spores that have collected on the tree while in the field or on the sales lot can cause allergic reactions. A 2011 study performed by staff at the SUNY Upstate Medical University and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 50 types of mold which can multiply rapidly in the cozy warmth of your living room, two-thirds of which could cause hay fever-like symptoms.

Here are a few tips to help you cut the Christmas mold level in your home, without giving up the tree:

1. Have your real tree, but don’t bring it inside right away. Wash your tree first with the garden hose. Set the nozzle for a hard spray to get into all those little nooks and crannies on the trunk. Wipe the trunk thoroughly with a solution of warm water and bleach (1 part bleach to 20 parts water) and let it dry in the sun before bringing it in your house.

2. The longer the tree is in your home, the higher the mold level. If those in your household are prone to mold allergy reaction, but don’t want to give up the Christmas tree, put the tree up Christmas Eve and take it down on New Year’s Day. Try to only keep a live tree in your home 4-7 days max.

3. Store all of your Christmas ornaments and decorations in plastic containers (instead of cardboard ones) to keep the dust off them.

4. Run an air purifier in the same room as the live tree. Cleaner air is key during the holidays and in order to reduce your mold exposure and lessen the effects of your tree allergies.

5. Buy an artificial tree: unless you store it in a sealed plastic bag, it will still need a good shaking outside when it’s brought out of storage each year to relieve it of dust.

Other indoor air toxins are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Especially during holiday season candles create a festive atmosphere. However, candles that are made out of paraffin are most likely to emit carcinogenic soot and particulate matter and can aggravate asthma symptoms. If you still want that ‘pumpkin pie’ scent in your home, buy natural candle alternatives that are made with vegetable/based wax and cotton wicks. Trip wicks to one-eighth of an inch and avoid burning candles in drafty areas.

For more information about indoor air quality and allergies click here and here .

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