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Christmas trees may harbor unwanted presence, study says

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Sniffling and sneezing this month may have more to do with your family Christmas tree than with the December air. Upstate pediatricians and staff provided clippings from their own trees for a study that showed molds are prevalent in conifers and may be responsible for epidemic peaks of respiratory illness that occur in the weeks around the Christmas holiday.

The study, published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, states the samples contain a variety of molds and that most of the molds identified are potential allergens which have been shown to increase the risk of wheeze, persistent cough and allergic sensitization in infants.

Lead researcher Lawrence Kurlandsky, MD, formerly of Upstate Medical University, suggests that the allergens may not affect all families. "If you and your children don't have any obvious allergies, then it is probably not going to bother you," he explained. For those who are susceptible to allergens, he suggests:

•Checking with the nursery where you purchase your tree. Some have tree washing services available.

•The do-it-yourself method. If the nursery is not able to clean your tree, you can do it at home. Simply use your garden hose to spray off the tree and allow it to dry before bringing it into the house.

•Minimize the length of exposure. There has been some evidence to imply that the longer the tree is in the house, and the warmer the environment is, the more spores are released into the air. Once your celebration is over, consider removing the tree.

•Use an air purifier. A household air purifier placed in the same room as the tree can help to remove allergens from the air.

Families that choose an artificial tree have their own set of concerns. If stored improperly, false trees can also introduce mold and dust into your home, aggravating allergies.