By Lucy Elkins
Bar humbug: The traditional pine could actually be ruining many people’s Christmas by causing serious allergic reactions
Some aspects of Christmas are certainly more appealing than others, but there is one component few of us do without: the particular tree.
With presents throughout the base and lights and decorations twinkling, it becomes the focal point of any home at this time of yr.
Yet new research suggests that rather than enhancing the festive feel, the standard Christmas pine tree may actually be making some people ill.
Christmas Forest Syndrome — as it is known — is caused by a number of different adjusts that grow on these trees.
They are found on the trees naturally but they flourish and rapidly embrace number once inside our snug, centrally heated homes.
This came to light initially in a study conducted by allergy specialist Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky, who was interested to discover why respiratory illnesses peak around Christmas.
This individual asked colleagues at the Upstate Healthcare University in New York to provide clippings of bark and pine needles from the Christmas tree they’d acquired 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 kind that can trigger asthma attacks, sneezing and a runny nose. ‘I do think this study is very significant, ’ says Dr Adrian Morris, a good allergy specialist from the Surrey Allergy Clinic.
‘It has been previously suspected how the Christmas tree might be causing allergic reactions and allergy-triggered asthma in particular.
Before this study it was thought that all the tree pollen or even the bud killer applied to trees could be accountable. Now we know that it’s the mold.
‘What is so interesting about this study would be that the mould they found in highest quantities on the trees — aspergillus, penicillium, cladosporium and alternaria — would be the moulds most likely to trigger allergic reactions. ’
Trigger: Moulds naturally occur on the pines, yet flourish rapidly when brought straight into centrally heated environments of our houses
These moulds can cause regular allergic rhinitis, leading to a loading nose and sinus pain, yet may also trigger an asthma attack.
‘Around 10 per cent of the people with allergy-based asthma have attacks brought on 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 along with cases. ’
The typical signs that your woods may be making you ill are in case you suddenly have an asthma attack after the tree is brought indoors or even if your nose suddenly starts operating and you are sneezing, even though you don’t feel like you have a cold.
Dismal experience: Mould from the pines may cause allergic rhinitis, sinus pain and also trigger an asthma attack
By the time the particular tree has been up for two weeks, the amount of spores found in an average flat boost from 800 per cubic metres to 5, 000 per cubic metre, according to other research quoted in the study.
‘That is more than enough to trigger a good allergic reaction, ’ says Dr Morris. ‘To put that into viewpoint, with hay fever you need around 50 pollen per cubic metres to trigger symptoms in a hay fever sufferer. ’
For some people the effects of the particular mould can be severe. In around one in 500 people — such as those with a compromised defense mechanisms — the aspergillus mould may settle and grow inside their air passage.
‘This may cause the sudden onset of the cough and fatigue that will not shift, ’ says Dr Morris.
‘It is normally diagnosed with a blood test but can be hard to treat, because anti-fungal treatments don’t work in the particular airways, so steroids usually have to be used instead. ’
And if that isn’t enough to make you start to edge the particular Christmas tree towards the door, there is more bad news. It’s not only the mould on the tree that can cause problems.
‘Someone with a lot of allergies can be allergic to smells and just the particular smell of the Christmas tree — which comes from the pine botanical — can trigger sneezes plus wheezes in some people, ’ says Dr Bill Frankland of the Greater london Allergy Clinic.
‘Also, if someone already has a respiratory allergy (such concerning a pet or dust mites) then the lining of their nose is already over-secreting and sensitive and the mould at the Christmas tree may make the symptoms of their normal allergy worse. ’
However , because Christmas involves a lot of to-ing plus fro-ing between friends and family members it can be hard to identify whether your runny nose is due to the Christmas tree, dust mites at your friend’s house or Auntie Ethel’s cat.
‘If your symptoms get worse in the area where the tree is and especially if you get close to the tree — for instance , as you take presents off it — then it is safe to say the particular allergen causing your problems can be coming from the tree, ’ says Doctor Frankland.
Relief available: Experts recommend using sprays to alleviate the condition as they target the sinus passages where the reaction is brought on
So if the finger of blame points to the tree what should you do about it?
Packing aside the fairy and binning the particular tree is quite an extreme measure — especially as they are far from inexpensive.
‘What you can do is to spray it having a mild bleach solution, as this will help kill off the mould, ’ advises Dr Morris. ‘Do this before you decide to 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 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 can be triggered. ’
The other option would be to make do with an artificial tree instead. This is especially worth doing just for parents who suffer from bad asthma or allergies.
‘Their children may be what we call atopic — prone to creating allergies — and they may become sensitised to mould if exposed to it early on, ’ says Dr Morris.
‘If they get exposed to these adjusts within the first year of their life, they may develop an allergy for 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) will not gather on them when they get added too the loft after Christmas. ’
Fake trees may not deliver that lovely pine smell or make quite the same atmosphere as a genuine 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 Within the bleak Midwinter started life like a poetry competition entry