Is Your Christmas Tree Making You Sick?

At this time of year pediatricians and allergists see an uptick in respiratory illnesses. A new study suggests the cause of the problem might be inside your own home. It could be your Christmas tree.

Allergists have long noticed that more patients than usual show up the week before and the week after Christmas with breathing problems and respiratory infections.

Conventional wisdom suggested it could have something to do with Christmas trees. For the first time that has been confirmed by a study out of Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.

Dr. Lawrence Kurlandsky specializes in pediatric asthma and respiratory illnesses and led the research. He says he wanted to find out what was on the trees that might cause problems for his patients.

“What we did was recruited people from the Upstate Medical University Department of Pediatrics, both staff and faculty, to bring in quote ‘biopsies’ end quote of their Christmas trees that they had set up.”

Dr. Kurlandsky tested 26 tree samples and found 53 different mold varieties on the samples. Several of the molds are known to cause respiratory problems. He says that led him to conclude that some people who are susceptible to allergens and mold might need to give up having a real tree.

“I don’t want to sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas. Children tend to have mold allergies more often than adults. So if it’s suspected, what I would recommend would be an artificial tree.”

Kurlandsky says another alternative is to thoroughly hose down the tree and let it dry out before bringing it inside. He also suggests minimizing exposure by only keeping the tree inside for a week.

“If you know you’re allergic to one of these then you should be concerned. And if you don’t have allergies and you don’t have problems at this time of the year, then don’t worry about it.”

The study was published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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