Q: I've noticed my daughter sneezing more frequently since we put our Christmas tree up for the holidays. Could she be allergic to pine?
A:While outdoor allergy sufferers can usually breathe a sigh of relief once the snow comes, there are some people-including children-who may experience allergic reactions to stuff going on inside a cozy home during the holiday season. One source of a reaction that parents might not consider? The Christmas tree.
Allergy to the Christmas tree itself is relatively uncommon, as pine pollen is generally too large to cause symptoms affecting the eyes, nose or lungs. However, children with allergies may start to itch, cough, wheeze or sneeze when the tree is brought inside the house. The usual culprit is not so obvious: mold.
Allergies to mold spores are similar to pollen or pet allergies. If your child is allergic to these, it's possible that he or she is also allergic to mold spores. Symptoms of mold allergies are much like those of "hay fever," including itchy and tearing eyes, coughing, a runny nose and congestion.
As with pollen allergies, medications such as antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays are available to help control symptoms, and in some cases immunotherapy could be an option.
Physically touching pine trees also can result in a red, itchy rash in sensitive individuals. This is usually due to the sap causing irritation for people with eczema or other chronic skin rashes. While the scent of pine might be enjoyable, if your child has mold allergies, you may want to consider using an artificial tree. Make sure the artificial tree is stored in a dry place and covered during the year, as these can accumulate mold as well
-David Stukus, M.D., is a physician with the Section of Allergy/Immunology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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Other Holiday Allergies
Although pine allergy tends to be uncommon, there are other allergies that are prevalent during the holidays and the rest of the year.
Parents should be vigilant about the following:
• Food allergies: As always, parents should be aware of the food that their children get their hands on. Be sure that relatives and friends are aware of your child's allergy, and plan accordingly for holiday meals.
• Pet allergies: Known as the "Thanksgiving Effect," your child may lose tolerance to the family pet after being away for a few days.
• EpiPens: Even when every precaution is taken, there is still a chance of an allergic reaction. Be sure to have your child's EpiPen on hand, just in case.
Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.
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