'Christmas Tree Syndrome' Sends Aussie Mum To Hospital
It was supposed to be the family's first picture-perfect Christmas. Instead, a young mum was left with bleeding skin and rashes, after an unexpected allergic reaction to a tree.
"We had visions of it being a really nice Christmas-y house," Niki Waldegrave said sadly, her skin still covered in a rash from the festive season fiasco.
"I've wanted a real tree for years... I don't think a plastic one does it justice."
Waldegrave, from Sydney's northern beaches, was "devastated" to became the victim of a condition known as 'Christmas tree syndrome' -- and it's one authorities are warning about.
She, her husband and her six-year-old son had moved to a new home in August. Last Christmas they visited Lapland in Finland, to see the region's famous Santa village. Inspired by the classic European Christmas feel, and looking forward to their first festive season in their much larger new home, Waldegrave wanted to put up a big, beautiful, natural tree.
"We used to have a tiny house, and we'd get a little tree on the sideboard. Growing up in England, we also had a plastic one in the family, but I wanted a big tree this time," she told 10 daily.
The family went to a local supermarket last Monday. They picked out a large fir tree, and strapped it to the roof of their car. Within minutes, Waldegrove's hands began itching.
"I get eczema, so I didn't think it was that unusual. But by the time I got home, the itch was creeping up my arms, down my legs. I started coming out in massive hives," she said.
"We decorated the tree, but by the time I got to bed, I was red raw."
She took a cold shower, rubbed moisturiser all over her body, took an anti-histamine tablet... but nothing seemed to help.
"There was blood on the sheets. I started wheezing a bit, I started freaking out because I didn't have an inhaler on me," Waldegrave said.
"I went to the hospital, they gave me steroids and more anti-histamines. It was a horrible reaction."
Waldegrave is waiting for an appointment with a dermatologist and allergy expert, but she thinks she fell victim to what is called 'Christmas tree syndrome' -- an allergy to Christmas trees.
The little-known condition can afflict people who already struggle with asthma, with the pollen and dust in the tree potentially affecting those who bring a real tree home. It's serious enough that the National Asthma Council of Australia has a warning page devoted to the condition on its website, warning of how asthma or hayfever symptoms could be triggered.
"Being allergic to a Christmas tree – often called the Christmas tree syndrome - is a condition that causes wheezing, sneezing, coughing, sore eyes, and potentially serious asthma attacks," the NACA said online.
"Real Christmas trees like the Cypress and the ever-popular Pine can collect a high amount of pollen from other plants before they are cut down. This can trigger asthma and hay fever symptoms once you bring them home, especially if you put them up indoors."
The council recommended people hose down their tree before bringing it in their home, and take the tree outside if symptoms are persistent.
Craig Jones, founder of the company MooGoo -- which makes products for people with allergies -- said people should be careful when choosing a real tree.
“The pine scent smells great, but there’s a pollen and mould that lives on Christmas trees which can be dangerous to breathe and causes allergic reactions for people sensitive to them,” he said.
“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."
Waldegrave has sadly had to remove her fir from the house, and the family will make do with an artificial plastic tree this year.
"I've never had a real tree before, so I didn't know if I was allergic to these before," she said.
She will visit a dermatologist soon for more information, and hopes she will be able to find a type of real tree that won't set off a reaction.
"I can still smell it in the house," she said.
"I'll do the tests. Maybe we can get a different type of tree next year. I'll just have to be really careful."