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Christmas Trees Can Trigger Some Allergies : In most cases, a little extra care can prevent the problem from occurring, doctors say.

November 24, 1994|From Times wire services

Real Christmas trees can pose problems for millions of chronic allergy sufferers. But there are some simple steps allergy sufferers can take to significantly reduce the likelihood of such allergy attacks this holiday season.

The National Christmas Tree Assn. estimates that 34.1 million real trees will be purchased this holiday season. While very few people are allergic to pine and fir trees, at least half of the country's 40 million chronic allergy sufferers are sensitive to mold. And a freshly cut tree placed in water is a "perfect environment for mold," according to Chicago allergist Dr. Allan Luskin.

First of all, many Christmas trees are already heavily covered with mold. When brought into the warm house, these molds release thousands of spores, said Luskin, a regent of the American College of Allergy and Immunology. "But the bigger problem is mold build-up in the tree water."

Mold spores are microscopic particles light enough to float in the atmosphere. When inhaled by a mold-sensitive person, they may cause a reaction.

"Reactions are often immediate for mold-sensitive people when walking into a house with a live tree loaded with mold," Luskin said. "The symptoms may include itchy eyes, runny nose and heavy wheezing."

How can this be prevented? Luskin recommends that mold-sensitive consumers:

* Hose down the tree and dry it off before bringing it into the house.

* Maintain a minimal amount of water in the tree stand.

* Run an air purifier in the room or place a mold inhibitor in the water.

"Only in rare instances, where an allergy sufferer is highly sensitive to mold, does a real tree need to be avoided," Luskin said.

Artificial trees solve the mold problem, but decorations and artificial trees can pose allergy problems because of the dust they gather, particularly while in storage 11 months out of the year, according to Dr. William Storms, a Colorado Springs allergist.

Storms said dust-sensitive allergy sufferers can reduce the risks of attack by following these tips:

* Take decorations outside and clean them before setting them up in the house.

* Give an artificial tree a good rinse before setting it up.

* After the holidays, clean the decorations and tree thoroughly and store them in sealed plastic bags or containers.

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