Is Christmas tree allergy making you sick?

June 2022  Linda Armstrong |  ✓  Medically reviewed by: Gary Falcetano, PA-C, AE-C; Fabio Iachetti, MD

A licensed Physician Assistant with more than 25 years of diverse experience in emergency and disaster medicine, primary care, and allergy and immunology, Gary Falcetano is the U.S. Clinical Affairs Manager for Allergy in ImmunoDiagnostics at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Fabio Iachetti is a licensed physician with more than 15 years of diverse experience in several disease areas such as allergy, CV, pain, GI, rheumatology, urology, and diabetology. He is a Senior Medical Manager for Allergy in ImmunoDiagnostics Global Medical Affairs at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Kwanza, Omisoka or Our Lady of Guadalupe, December could be the season for sneezin’. While colds and flu are common this time of year, they may not be the cause of your discomfort. The true culprit could be the allergens on the Christmas tree lurking in your living room—or on the myriad pines parked everywhere from shopping malls to subway stations.

Although an allergy to Christmas trees may sound about as likely as a successful 20-year Hollywood marriage, Christmas Tree Syndrome is real. The associated symptoms can dampen your holiday spirit more than a cringe-worthy gift from Aunt Mildred.

So to help you determine if you’re affected by Christmas tree allergy (or more specifically the related mold, pollen, dust mites, and sap), here’s the lowdown on this little-known seasonal affliction. 

What might be causing your symptoms?

While the jury’s still out to some degree, here are some types of allergens that could be triggering Christmas Tree Syndrome.


Likely the only thorough investigation of Christmas tree allergy, a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal concluded that airborne ragweed, grass, and tree pollens on Christmas tree bark or rosin (aka sap) are the likely causes of related symptoms.1 That makes sense because cypress and pine trees, which are often used as Christmas trees, can collect a significant amount pollen from other plants before they are cut down.2 Some weed, grass, and tree pollen, then, likely stays on the trees that end up in your house.4

Pollen-Related Symptoms

Pollen may aggravate asthma symptoms and trigger the following symptoms.3

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy throat and eyes
  • Wheezing

Mold and Dust Mites

The aforementioned CMA Journal study also indicated that scrapings from pine and spruce bark yielded large numbers of potentially allergenic mold spores (specifically those of Penicillium, Epicoccum, and Alternaria).4 While these spores weren’t airborne in relation to this study, another study suggested that mold could be part of the problem, as researchers discovered more than 50 kinds of mold on their Christmas trees.4,5

If mold is to blame, then, faux firs might not be any better than genuine pine. That’s because artificial trees are sometimes stored in damp basements and humid attics, both of which can support mold growth.5 What’s more, these environments may also house dust mites.2 So if you’re sensitized to mold or dust mites, even fake yet festive firs could bring on the sniffles.

Mold-Related Symptoms

Mold may aggravate asthma symptoms and trigger the following symptoms:6

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Irritated eyes
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy throat

Rosin (aka Sap)

To further complicate matters, pine-tree sap (i.e., rosin colophony) can cause contact dermatitis.7 So some people can develop a Chrstimas tree rash after touching its sap.5

Bottom line: The main cause of Christmas Tree Syndrome is debatable. But mold, dust mites, and pollen are suspected causes; plus, rosin could be a sneaky accomplice.

How do you diagnose and minimize Christmas tree allergy and Christmas tree rash?

Assuming you don’t already have an allergy diagnosis, talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and history. He or she may recommend testing, as identifying the allergens to which you’re sensitized may help you minimize exposure and treat symptoms more effectively.

Once you know which allergens are likely causing your symptoms, the following tactics—broken down by related allergy types—can help you manage your allergy.2,5


  • Spray down live trees with water to wash off pollen and mold before bringing them indoors.
  • Consider adding air purifiers to rooms with live trees to reduce airborne pollen.
  • Minimize your exposure to pollen on live, potentially unwashed trees in public locales.
  • Consider moving live trees outside to lessen indoor pollen levels.

Mold / Dust Mites / Sap 

  • Minimize mold and dust mite exposure by unpacking previously stored artificial trees outdoors and then vacuuming or shaking them well before positioning them inside. Wear a protective mask and/or clothing to limit exposure while performing this step.
  • Pack any artificial trees in airtight plastic bags or sealed boxes to prevent dust mite and mold accumulation.
  • Cover your skin to sidestep sap exposure when handling live trees.
  • Consider storing artificial trees in a climate-controlled space or facility to discourage mold growth.

Tools for Understanding Allergies


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  1. Kurlandsky LE, Przepiora J, Riddell SW, Kiska DL. Identification of mold on seasonal indoor coniferous trees. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011 Jun;106(6):543-4. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2011.03.003. Epub 2011 Apr 12. PMID: 21624760.Published:April 13, 2011DOI: . Available from:
  2. National Asthma Council Australia [Internet]. South Melbourne, Australia: National Asthma Council Australia Ltd.; 2021. Available from:
  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (pollen) [Internet]. Arlington Heights, IL: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; 2014 [2018 Apr 23]. Available from:
  4. Wyse DM, Malloch D. Christmas tree allergy: mould and pollen studies. Can Med Assoc J. 1970 Dec 5;103(12):1272-6. PMID: 5485790; PMCID: PMC1930673. Available from:
  5. Wada, K. The Ohio State University Wexiner Medical Center [Internet]. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University; 2017 Dec 13. Available from:
  6. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology [Internet]. Arlington Heights, IL: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; 2018 Apr 23. Available from:
  7. Voller LM, Kimyon RS, Warshaw EM. Colophony (rosin) allergy: more than just Christmas trees. Minnesota Medicine. 2019 Nov/Dec. p. 44-46. Available from:,adherent%20bandages%20and%20ostomy%20devices.