Christmas Trees Can Worsen Allergies and Asthma

4 Reasons to Use an Artificial Christmas Tree if you have Allergies

For many people, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without having an indoor Christmas tree. The sparkling lights, the shiny ornaments, and the smell of fresh pine sets the festive mood for the holiday season. For some people, however, having an indoor Christmas tree can wreak havoc on their asthma and allergy symptoms. While there are some measures that might help reduce the symptoms associated with a live Christmas tree, people with severe allergies and asthma may want to consider getting a hypoallergenic artificial Christmas tree.

Here are four main reasons why a person with allergies and asthma could have worsening symptoms by having an indoor Christmas tree:

1. Irritants to strong odors. The fresh pine scent of a live Christmas tree can certainly worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. However, this isn’t because of a true allergy, but rather an irritant effect called vasomotor rhinitis.

People with vasomotor rhinitis are often treated as if they have allergies, but their symptoms don’t get better with typical allergy medications, such as antihistamines. This is because histamine is not causing the symptoms. Instead, irritant triggers -- such as a strong smelling Christmas tree -- irritate the membranes inside the nose, causing it to produce mucus. The mucus either fills up the nasal passages, causing congestion, or runs out of the nose (runny nose) or down the throat (post nasal drip).

Treatment of vasomotor rhinitis includes the use of a variety of prescription nasal sprays, the cautious use of oral decongestants (such as Sudafed), as well as the use of nasal saline irrigation.

2. Pollen allergy. Most people believe that an indoor live Christmas tree will worsen their allergies and asthma as a result of pollen being released from the tree. While this is a potential cause, it is actually the least likely reason of the causes mentioned here. This is because that except for the setting up and taking down of the tree, when pollen could be released into the air, there wouldn’t be enough air movement in the home to cause pollen to become airborne.

Some types of Christmas trees may cause more problems than other types when it comes to releasing pollen in the home. Stick with classic pine trees if possible, and avoid spruce, cypress, juniper and cedar varieties, whose pollen is well known to cause significant allergies and asthma. Pine pollen, on the other hand, is generally very heavy and falls immediately to the ground/floor, where it is less likely to trigger allergies and asthma compared to if it were airborne.

It is also helpful to wash off your freshly cut Christmas tree with a garden hose before bringing the tree into your home. Then, let the tree dry outside overnight. You will have washed off a good portion of any pollen that could’ve been released into the air indoors. Also, avoid putting the tree under a heater vent, so that there isn’t excess air movement around the tree, which could stir up any pollen particles.

3. Mold allergy. The most likely reason for worsening allergies and asthma with an indoor Christmas tree is due to mold allergy.

Researchers have found that after 2 weeks of being indoors, a live Christmas tree will emit significant amounts of mold spores into the air. In fact, the amount of mold spores found in a home with a live Christmas tree is nearly 10 times the amount of mold normally found inside without a tree. People who suffer from mold allergies may want to limit the amount of time a Christmas tree is kept indoors (such as less than 2 weeks), or consider using an artificial tree.

4. Dust allergy. Worsening allergy and asthma symptoms with having a live Christmas tree may have nothing to do with the tree itself. The problem could be with the dusty items pulled out of storage every year to decorate the tree and the rest of the house. Cloth and fabric decorations could harbor dust mites, and having these articles on the Christmas tree and around the house could trigger symptoms in people with allergies and asthma.

Consider sticking with decorations that have hard surfaces, such as glass, wood and plastic, as opposed to fabric and plush decorations. These hard items won’t harbor dust mites, and can be wiped with a damp cloth before setting out as decorations. Any fabric items should be washed in hot water prior to use for the holidays. Read more about the avoidance measures used to control dust mite exposures.

Learn more about winter allergies.


Rockwell WJ, Santilli J. Mold Allergy and Live Christmas Trees. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008; 100(s1):P59.

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