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Season's sneezings: Christmas tree molds may prompt allergies

Christmas Tree and ornimentFaculty and staff from Upstate‘s Department  of Pediatrics provided clippings of their Christmas trees last year for a study that showed molds are prevalent on the conifers and may be responsible for the epidemic peaks of respiratory illness that occur the weeks before and after Dec. 25.

The clippings harbored a variety of molds, says Josephine Przepiora, an instructor in the College of Health Professions who co-authored the study, appearing in the journal, Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Most molds that were identified are potential allergens and have been shown to increase the risk of wheeze, persistent cough, and allergic sensitization in infants.”

Lead author Lawrence Kurlandsky, interviewed for Health Link on Air radio, said previous studies showed that respiratory illnesses in children peak five days before Christmas, and respiratory illnesses in adults peak five days after. No studies that he could find looked at Christmas trees as culprits. So, members of Upstate's departments of microbiology and pathology submitted samples of their own Christmas trees for biopsy.

Among the 28 samples, 53 different types of mold were discovered, Kurlandsky says. Many were molds that are not known to trigger allergies, but the four most prevalent molds are known allergens.

What to do?

Artificial trees may not be the answer, since they can harbor dust and mold if stored improperly, cautions the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The group suggests wearing gloves to avoid contact with sap, and using a leaf blower in a well-ventilated area to help remove visible pollen grains from conifers before bringing them into the home. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation also suggests wiping the trunk of the tree with a solution of lukewarm water and diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 20 parts water) to eliminate mold.

Listen to Dr. Kurlandsky's interview on Health Link on Air radio

Read the study (for a fee)

* Upstate's weekly radio program, Health Link on Air, appears at 9 a.m. Sundays on WSYR Newsradio 570 106.9