Christmas tree syndrome is an illness associated with allergies and or asthma caused by freshly cut Christmas trees. Most people falsely assume that pine tree pollen is the culprit, but, in fact, it’s not the tree itself – it’s often the mold on the tree.
The reason this occurs is that all types of Christmas trees naturally contain some mold and when they are cut in advance of the holidays and stored in a moist and dark environment, the mold begins to grow, thrive and multiply on a daily basis.
A 2011 study by researchers at the SUNY Upstate Medical University and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that the Christmas trees they tested carried about 50 different types of mold, two-thirds of which could cause allergy-like symptoms.
Once these trees make it into your toasty, warm living room, the mold will proliferate the tree and the spores and mycotoxins will then be released, making indoor air quality terrible.
A study by St. Vincent’s Medical Center found that indoor mold spore counts can rise significantly on a daily basis from a live Christmas tree, which can cause people to suffer allergies within 24 hours or less.
The researchers studied the mold growth of a live Christmas tree that was brought inside the house and decorated in Connecticut and found that after a two week period, the spore count was up to five times the normal level.
A coauthor of the study, Philip Hemmers, an allergist and immunologist with St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn. had said;
“Christmas trees are another possible source of mold exposure during the holiday season. Mold allergies peak in the fall, and we see a second peak with a lot of our mold-sensitive patients during the holiday season. Our finding correlates with this second peak of mold sensitivity.”
“This mold spore count is five times above normal. These high levels have been correlated with allergic rhinitis and an increased rate of asthma symptoms and asthma-related hospitalization in other studies,” said Hemmers. “So if you don’t feel well during the holidays, consider the Christmas tree as a possible source of allergies.”
“So if you don’t feel well during the holidays, consider the Christmas tree as a possible source of allergies,” said study co-author Philip Hemmers, an allergist and immunologist with St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn.
To give you an idea of how high the spore count had risen, a 2007 study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Dallas, had measured mold counts in a room containing a live Christmas tree, beginning when the tree was brought inside and decorated in a room with indoor temperature was maintained at between 65 and 68 F.
The researchers found for the first three days, counts remained at 800 spores per cubic meter of air, then began rising significantly over the following days to a maximum of 5,000 spores per cubic meter by day 14, when the tree was finally taken down.
Just so you know, I’m a mold inspector and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) specialist in Southern California who has performed hundreds of inspections. In my opinion, that is A LOT of mold in the air and most likely enough to cause serious allergies and illness quickly in those who are most susceptible.
How do you avoid the “Christmas tree syndrome?
Here is the Mold Safe Solutions list of things that you can do to protect yourself and your family.
You can go with a fake/synthetic tree. However, these fake trees are often coated with harmful chemicals and can cause chemical reactions in some people.
Wash the Tree
When you get your freshly cut tree, there will be mold spores already growing on the needles and bark. You can actually wash a lot of these spores off with a mild organic type of soap and water before you bring it indoors.
I only recommend this if you can dry the tree almost 100% with a fan and or leaving it out in the sun for 4-8 hours to let it dry.
If you want a live Christmas tree like me and my family, the best thing you can do is have a great HEPA air purifier running near your tree to help filter the air. A good air purifier will reduce indoor mold, dander, and pollen count significantly.
Keep Tree for 4-7 Days
The next thing you can do is limit the amount of time you keep the tree in your home. It is recommended that people with allergies, asthma or mold illness keep a live Christmas tree in their homes for only four to seven days, and get rid of it ASAP after the holiday.
Moe Bedard is the founder of Mold Safe Inspections and manager at Mold Safe Solutions. A full-service Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) company specializing in property water damage, mold inspections, consultations, and mold remediation.
If you need help with a project, please call 760-818-6830.