MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Their size, shape, color and, of course, their distinct smell are the first things that come to mind when picking the perfect Christmas tree. But those beautiful Christmas icons can also contain allergens that will leave you sneezing this holiday season.
"The first issue is the tree itself, even though they've been cut and it is winter, they still have pollen probably with certain trees," said Dr. Dennis Rhoades of Doctors Care. "But, on top of that the trees can have mold associated with them because they've been in damp environments, been watered and outside so you're bringing a source of mold inside as well."
Christmas trees spend the majority of their lives in the outdoors until they are uprooted to be sold and brought home. The trees are often harvested for purchase well in advance of Christmas and stored in moist holding areas, vulnerable to grow mold, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.
While the tree's beauty is in plain sight, the mold can be microscopic and often times unnoticeable. "Especially with Christmas trees, the types of evergreens, their needles' positions make it hard to examine if there is mold," Dr. Rhoades explained.
Allergic reactions can cause itchy eyes, a runny nose, scratchy throat or even wheezing and difficulty breathing. Molds can even trigger Asthma for those with the condition. The effects allergies have on your body also make you more prone to contracting viruses, Dr. Rhoades said.
"So one of the big issues is if you do have allergies to mold or significant allergy problems, should you even consider a real tree?" Dr. Rhoades questioned.
If you cannot imagine the holidays without a real spruce in your living room there are ways to protect yourself from severe effects.
Taking over the counter allergy medicines before bringing the tree home can lower the chances of severe problems, Dr. Rhoades suggested.
"Over the counter products are good for allergies, if they aren't working they have inhalants or nasal sprays and steroids that can help people out," Dr. Rhoades said.
Hosing the tree down with water before taking it into your home and waiting for it to dry before bringing it inside can also help reduce effects of tree-related allergies, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.
If the thought of fighting allergies is enough to make you sick, artificial Christmas trees may be the better alternative. Artificial trees that are stored properly, safe from collecting dust or growing mold, can help you enjoy a sneeze free holiday season.
"We recommend artificial trees, no issues with mold, unless of course your tree is old, stored in your attic several years and bringing in the dust element," Dr. Rhoades explained.