By Niki Waldegrave

Growing up, we always had a plastic Christmas tree that had been in the family for years, but this year, after moving to a bigger house and finally having room, we decided to get the real thing.

Last Christmas I took my six-year-old son, Ernie, to meet the real Santa in Lapland, and fell in love with the magical Christmassy scenery – all snow-tipped Christmas trees, glistening snow and thousands of reindeer everywhere.

Ernie had been asking for a real tree all year (we believe he somehow thought we could recreate Lapland at home!) so I surprised them by getting a 7ft tree from our local grocery store.

Niki and her whole family met the real Santa in Lapland … then things took a horrible turn!

Being an allergy kid all my life, my hands and arms reacting and coming up in hives after I’d tied it on the roof of the car was nothing new, but the reaction got worse as I was decorating it, and I came up in massive welts where the tree had touched my skin, especially on my arms, hands, face and shoulders.

By the time I went to bed that night, my face was puffy, my asthma had flared up and my eyes were itchy and red. I had a shower, used my inhalers and steroid nose spray and took a Phenergan antihistamine and went to bed at around 9pm.

The next morning, I woke up groggy from the antihistamine, but my reaction was even worse – I had hives all over her face, ears and neck and an eczema-like rash covering my whole upper body.

Uh-oh … not all Christmas trees are created equal.

I was also wheezy, and my arms were red raw and bleeding where I must have itched in the night.

It was getting worse as the day wore on so I went to hospital and was given steroids to calm the inflammation down and more antihistamines. My husband got rid of the tree and we washed all the decorations that had been on it, but I can still smell it in the house and feel its spores in the air, despite having all the windows open.

All those plans of a winter wonderland have been dashed as I’m allergic to the Christmas tree – but I’m not the only one! Christmas Tree Syndrome is ‘a thing’!

Niki’s allergy was more than little rash.

Allergic reactions to Christmas trees are on the rise and the phenomena is so common it’s been labelled ‘Christmas Tree Syndrome’.

Trees such as cypress and pine can collect a high amount of pollen and according to research, approximately 35 percent of people in the UK and US suffer from ‘Christmas Tree Syndrome’ – and it’s on the rise here in Australia

Experts from the National Asthma Council Australia say Christmas tree syndrome can cause wheezing, sneezing, coughs, sore eyes and potentially serious asthma attacks.

Melody Livingstone, CEO of Australian natural skin care brand, MooGoo, that makes products for people with allergies, says, “Christmas Tree Syndrome is actually a ‘thing’ and a much more common problem than you would imagine.

“Studies show people can experience a conifer allergy due to the pollen and mould that lives on Christmas trees, so while they look beautiful and the pine scent smells great, they can be dangerous to breathe and cause allergic reactions for people sensitive to them.

“We’re seeing people with sensitive skin getting itchy, red spots if they are poked by the pine needs while putting up their festive season decorations.

“However, some fake artificial Christmas trees are no better – especially if they have been stored for the year leading up to Christmas, accumulating a layer of dust and mould spores.”

Melody Livingstone, CEO of Australian natural skin care brand, MooGoo shares her tips for avoiding Christmas Tree Syndrome.

How To Avoid Christmas Tree Syndrome

Melody Livingstone shares the five best ways to avoid Christmas Tree Syndrome:

  • Clean the tree: Try and remove some of the mould, pollen and dirt from a real tree by hosing it off and once dry, running a vacuum cleaner over the leaves to further dislodge the dust.
  • Install an air purifier near the tree: These can help remove pollen and other particle pollutants from the home.
  • Minimise exposure: Try keep your tree up for the shortest time possible – that means taking it down the day after New Year. Next year even delay putting it up until a few days before Christmas.
  • Protect your skin when decorating: Make sure you’re wearing long sleeves and gloves to avoid pine needles or sap coming into contact with your skin. Best to change clothes after the tree is decorated as well.
  • Find the right treatment: If you do find you’re getting a reaction to the tree, make sure you use products designed for sensitive skin or it can cause more irritation. If the symptoms persist you might need to seek medical treatment.
  • Consider storage: At the end of the Silly Season switch from storing the tree and decorations in cardboard boxes or open bags as they allow the dust to accumulate, a better option is a dust free vacuum container.