Written by Ryan Neilan, MD, FACS, FARS
Cue the holiday music on the radio, wreathes and garland in town squares, seasonal fairs and farmer’s markets as the brisk air enters Houston into the Christmas season. But wait! Before the ornaments and icicle lights, there’s the task of selecting the perfect tree.
If your family is anything like mine, each year there’s a debate on whether we will be picking out a real tree or an artificial tree. If allergens are a deciding factor and you assume that purchasing an artificial tree is “better” for your allergies, you may want to re-think your decision. With about 77 percent of U.S. households displaying a Christmas tree during the winter holiday season, it’s important for Houstonians to know that an artificial tree doesn’t always protect you from allergens. Both trees can trigger different allergies, so let’s break it down.
Artificial trees have the convenience factor in their corner for sure, taking about 81 percent of the Real vs. Artificial standoff in the United States. If your family decides to go the artificial route, experts at Texas ENT Specialists recommend purchasing a tree made of molded polyethylene instead of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Polyethylene, which is a type of moldable plastic, produces less off-gassing and better resembles a real tree. Regardless of which artificial tree you purchase, they aren’t necessarily the answer to completely removing holiday allergens because these too can be hosts to dust, mold and pollen, which are both major triggers prominently found in the Greater Houston Area.
Real trees have the ‘memories in the making’ essence fighting in their corner, although they aren’t as popular as the artificial component, only taking the remaining 19 percent of the Real vs. Artificial challenge. Home to many mold spores, real trees can trigger irritating day-to-day symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, and a scratchy throat. If pine pollen is an allergy trigger, try buying a fir, spruce or cypress tree. The Leyland cypress is a sterile hybrid tree that does not produce any pollen.
Once you get the tree home or out of the box, maintaining throughout the holiday season is important if you want to remain allergy-free. Both trees are susceptible to mold and collecting dust mites once in the home – so it’s important that you clean the tree thoroughly. Cleaning a tree may sound silly, but with approximately 95 million U.S. households having a tree, there’s a significant amount of allergy symptoms waiting to be triggered. Here’s a few tips on how to make sure your tree is home ready.
For real trees, simply shake the tree to remove any dead needles, unwanted dust or mold while still at the tree farm. Then, when you make it home, lightly spray the tree with water to get rid of the remaining pollen and mold. Finally let it sit overnight, or as long as possible, to ensure the tree completely dries prior to moving it inside.
For artificial trees, be sure to conduct a thorough wipe-down to get rid of any unwanted allergen triggers that may have settled their way into the branches while it was in storage. Simply using a damp cloth will do the trick – but remember, whether cleaning your fresh tree from the farm, or unpacking your artificial tree and ornaments, wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent any skin irritation.
As an added precaution, it never hurts to add a high-efficiency particulate air filter, also commonly known as a HEPA air filter, or purchase an air purifier for the home. These can come in handy year-round in Houston.
When it’s all said and done, be mindful when storing your artificial trees. Many families tend to turn to cardboard storage boxes, but this can increase the number of allergens calling your tree home! Cardboard enhances the growth rate of mold, mildew, dust and many other allergens when stored in stagnant environments like attics and garages. This year try to find a plastic container that completely seals off your tree and décor from outside allergens.
In the end, there’s good news for allergy sufferers who have passed up purchasing real trees for an artificial tree. Other than mold, both artificial and real trees are home to dust allergens – which equally trigger reactions.
The truth? Buying a real tree isn’t likely to trigger those pesky allergy symptoms any more than an artificial tree will, contrary to what you’ve thought for so long. So, you heard it here first – go ahead and buy a real tree! Don’t let allergy rumors ruin all the fun.
About the Author:
Dr. Ryan E. Neilan sees the breadth of general Otolaryngology, with a particular interest in Rhinology/Allergy/Endoscopic Sinonasal Surgery as well as Pediatric Otolaryngology. He utilizes advanced and minimally invasive techniques such as endoscopic septoplasty, revision sinus surgery,