POLL: Do you prefer a real Christmas tree or a fake one? Tips for both

The CW39 Houston

FILE – In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Tommy Lawson looks out into rows of Christmas trees as his family browses for their tree at the John T Nieman Nursery in Hamilton, Ohio. For many people, it’s hard not to think about the upcoming holidays already. Some folks are holding early Christmas celebrations so they can be with elderly parents outdoors while the weather still allows it. As the holidays approach, the pandemic is forcing people to come up with creative ways to celebrate. Experts say rituals have always been with us and there has always been room for improvisation. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

HOUSTON (CW39) Millions of Americans recently used the long Thanksgiving weekend to set up their Christmas tree and retrieve other holiday decorations. 

Unfortunately, these seasonal items can cause respiratory problems for many people, as we breathe in the mold and dust they have collected while sitting in their garage or attic over the past 11 months.

Over the next few weeks, families will spend time cleaning and organizing for guests visiting their house, but what about making sure the air in their home is safe for others to breathe?

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Americans, on average spend approximately 90 percent of their day indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher than the air we breathe outdoors.  These conditions are made worse during the holidays as we add trees, decorations and candles around our homes which can be harmful for friends and family members with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues.

We can set up an interview for you with a local expert at a home, in your newsroom or virtually via Skype, Zoom or Facetime. We will demonstrate the tips below with visual props and discuss how to protect their homes from additional airborne contaminants during the holiday season. 

Here are some common holiday decoration practices that contribute to unhealthy air quality in the home and ways to keep everyone safe this time of year:

  • “Christmas Tree Syndrome” – While the pine scent may be nice to smell, the pollen and mold remaining on a live Christmas tree are dangerous to breathe.  Researchers at State University of New York found that 70 percent of the molds found in live trees can trigger severe asthma attacks, fatigue and sinus congestion. Artificial trees can also cause problems, especially if they’re not wrapped properly and have accumulated dust and mold spores while in storage.

Here are some tips before you set up the Christmas tree this year:

For Live Trees:

  • Hose off the tree to remove pollen and mold and let dry before you bring it inside.
  • Wear gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid sap touching your skin.
  • Wipe down the trunk of the tree with a solution of 1-part bleach, 20 parts lukewarm water.

For Artificial Trees:

  • Wrap the tree securely, store in a cool and dry place.
  • Wipe down the tree and ornaments before setting up.
  • Reduce the amount of spray snow to frost your tree and windows. Aerosolized chemicals can cause irritant reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs.
  • Dust off the decorations – They’ve been stored away for 11 months in garages, basements or attics which are known hangouts for mold and dust mites, carrying many allergens. Wipe those decorations off thoroughly with a damp cloth when you take them out of storage. After the holidays, pack decorations in plastic bags, or bins, not cardboard. Cardboard is notorious for collecting dust and promoting mold growth.
  • Stop the scented sprays and flocking Creating ambiance from a can could lead to irritated noses and throats, exacerbating respiratory issues. Instead, try a natural potpourri of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peels, simmering on the stove, to keep your home smelling fresh and festive.
  • Snuff the scented candles While they can create that warm cozy feeling in your home, candles can also lead to respiratory distress in people with severe allergies or asthma. Some scented, petroleum-based candles can produce soot, as well as irritating particles and gasses. Candles made from soy, hemp, or beeswax, or even ones using LED “flickering light” effects may be a better option.
  • Punt the poinsettias The cheerful, traditional plant is everywhere during the holidays. But did you know poinsettias are members of the rubber tree family? That means anyone allergic to latex could develop anything from a rash to severe breathing problems, just by touching or inhaling the allergen.  The plants can also be mildly toxic to pets, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or skin or eye irritation in dogs and cats.

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