FOR many, putting up the Christmas tree marks the start of the festive season.
But for others it sparks a whole wave of miserable – and even deadly – symptoms.
Experts warn that despite looking merry in the corner of your living room, Christmas trees can harbour a variety of different types of mould.
These mould spores grow naturally on your tree – but can multiply in the toasty temperatures of your home and aggravate the lungs.
In fact, 300 people are admitted to hospital on Christmas Day each year, suffering severe asthma attacks, that could be linked to their unassuming decoration, according to Asthma UK.
And fake trees aren’t the safe alternative they may seem to be as they spend a year gathering dust and mould in the loft, which can also be problematic for sufferers.
Christmas tree syndrome
Dubbed Christmas tree syndrome, scientists in the US noted a rise in respiratory illnesses in the weeks before and after December 25.
Their 2011 study found airborne mould spores could increase from 800 spores per cubic metre to as many as 5,000 spores per cubic metre, two weeks after a tree is brought into the home.
The team from Upstate Medical University in New York found 53 different types of mould on 28 different Christmas tree clippings.
The study, published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, also found that most of the moulds identified are potential allergens, which increase the risk of wheezing, persistent cough and allergic sensitisation in infants.
Lead researcher Lawrence Kurlandsky, said: “If you and your children don’t have any obvious allergies, then it is probably not going to bother you.”
But, those with allergies as well as asthma sufferers should be alert to the dangers, Asthma UK urged.
Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP, said: “Mould can be a real problem for the 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK, causing allergic reactions that can trigger asthma symptoms and, in some cases, life-threatening asthma attacks.
“Most of the time mould is obvious in the home, but many people don’t realise that mould also naturally grows on Christmas trees.
“This is made worse when people turn their heating on, as the warmer temperature encourages mould to grow faster.
“The best thing people can do to prevent asthma symptoms is to take their preventer medicine as prescribed.”
A LUNG CONDITION THAT CAUSES BREATHING DIFFICULTIES
Asthma affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also appear for the first time in adults.
It is caused by inflammation of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
This inflammation makes the breathing tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily become narrow.
This may occur randomly, or after exposure to a trigger like dust, pollen, smoke and even exercise.
The main symptoms include
- a tight chest
Symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse, this is known as an asthma attack.
There is no known cure for asthma but the symptoms can be managed with a number of treatments.
Most asthma treatments are taken using an inhaler, a small device that delivers a spray or powder medicine to your breathing tubes as you breathe in.
The main treatments are:
- avoiding potential triggers
- reliever inhalers – inhalers used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
- preventer inhalers – inhalers used every day to reduce the inflammation in the breathing tubes
Source: NHS Choices
Fake trees are a great alternative if the allergens that form on a real tree cause you too many breathing difficulties.
But artificial trees, and decorations, can gather dust and mould when they are kept in storage for the year which can cause a flare-up of symptoms when you put it up.
So it’s a good idea to wipe them down when you pull it out of storage and wrap them in plastic to keep the dust at bay when you put them away again.
If you love to have a real tree, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
Airborne allergens expert, Max Wiseberg, said: “Hose down your tree before taking it into the house, or after getting it out of storage, as this can help remove some of the mould and spores – though it’s probably best to get someone who isn’t allergic to do this.
Hose down your tree before taking it into the house, or after getting it out of storage, as this can help remove some of the mould and spores
“Take care when you’re decorating your tree, or get someone else to, as allergens will be disturbed as you move the tree into position and move the branches to hang the decorations and position the lights.
“Put your tree up as late as possible to help minimise the risk of exposure to mould.”
He also suggested using an allergen barrier balm, such as HayMax, around your nostrils to help stop the allergens getting up your nose, or using an air purifier to help clear the air of mould particles.
But Asthma UK says that you should be prepared to throw it away if you notice your asthma is getting worse.