Feeling a little congested? Have a scratchy throat? The culprit could be your Christmas tree.
While December is generally a quiet period for common Florida allergens like pollen and ragweed, holiday decorations — both live and artificial — can create allergy and air quality issues inside homes, said Dr. Farnaz Tabatabaian, an allergist-immunologist with the University of South Florida.
Live trees can bring mold into the house, and stored-away decorations in attics can attract dust mites — both of which can aggravate symptoms of asthma and allergies this time of year.
“The pine on the tree itself generally isn’t the problem. It’s the pollen,” Tabatabaian said. “So if a real tree has been outside for a while, it can also have micro spores of mold on it.”
The concentration of air pollutants can be two to five times higher indoors than the air we breathe outside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Adding dusty or moldy decorations to the home often makes conditions worse around the holidays, said Brian Westmoreland, franchise owner of AdvantaClean of Tampa. The company specializes in air duct cleaning and mold mitigation, among other indoor air quality issues.
“We’re already coming into the cold and flu season and sometimes people can be having symptoms and not know what it’s related to,” said Westmoreland. “It can very well be something they’ve brought into their house.”
Tabatabaian urges patients who are prone to allergies and asthma to let their live tree rest in a patio or a garage for a day before setting it up inside the home. She also suggests adding chlorine to the water the live tree sits in.
Westmoreland agreed that “cleaning” holiday decorations, including the Christmas tree, can improve air quality inside the home this time of year.
“A lot of people just don’t think about it,” he said. “When we think of pollution, we think of smog or the impact of factories. But inside our homes, we trap all those pollutants in a tight space. That’s why ventilation is so important.”
For artificial trees and decorations, Tabatabaian said it’s important to store them in plastic or fabric containers instead of something like cardboard.
“Dust mites won’t live on a synthetic tree,” she said. “It’s worth giving that stuff a good shake or to wipe it down to avoid additional irritation.”
For live trees:
- Hose off the tree to remove pollen and mold. Let it dry before bringing it inside.
- Wear gloves and long sleeves when transporting the tree to avoid allergens touching skin.
- Wipe down the trunk of the tree with a solution of one-part bleach, 20 parts lukewarm water.
For artificial trees and decorations:
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- Wrap the tree securely in a moisture-tight container. Instead of cardboard, use a plastic tub. Store it in a cool and dry place.
- Wipe down the tree and ornaments with a damp cloth before setting up and displaying in the home.
- Be mindful of the amount of spray snow used to “frost” the tree or windows. Aerosolized chemicals can cause reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs.
- Wipe clean all decorations. Remember they’ve been stored away for 11 months in a garage or attic, which are common places for dust mites or mold. When packing away for next year, use sealed bags or tubs.