Can you be allergic to a Christmas tree? 5 things I learned about winter allergies from Dr. Falcone

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This paid content was co-created in partnership with Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A.


Wait, what? Are winter allergies actually a thing? Here’s a quick look at what allergy specialist Dr. Michael Falcone thinks of my winter allergy management.

My seasonal allergies stink. It starts with sneezing, moves to post nasal drip, sore throat, cold and then a cough that’ll last a week or so. Feels like it happens every fall and spring. And lately, it feels like winter hasn’t been much better.

What am I allergic to? Everything. When I had the allergy prick test done, I literally reacted to everything and I wanted to take a rake to the area that they tested.

One thing I’ve learned about allergies is that it’s all about management. Small things matter.

Honestly, I’m getting much better at managing my seasonal allergies. I take an allergy pill and nasal spray daily during the spring and fall and I focus on avoiding things I’m allergic to (which sounds obvious, but I didn’t adhere to in the past).

But I’ve never thought about winter allergies. So, I decided to go talk with Michael Falcone, MD from Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A., a partner with the Agenda.

As a self-described allergy nerd, I told Dr. Falcone about 5 of my allergy management practices and got his quick assessment on each.

dr falcone winter allergies

(1) I swear I’m allergic to Christmas trees. Is this a thing or am I just a Scrooge?

Last year I had a cold and sore throat for about three weeks in December. I then threw out our Christmas tree and the next morning I woke up and felt great. I swear I was allergic to the Christmas tree in our house. This year, we bought a fake Christmas tree.

Dr. Falcone: It’s unlikely (but still technically possible) that you are allergic to the tree itself.  The trees can harbor mold spores which can certainly trigger allergy symptoms.  Additionally, the Christmas tree smell that so many love can also be an important irritant to the nose of others. This irritation may not be due to an allergic process but can give you symptoms that sound like allergies. This is similar to people who have symptoms when exposed to cigarette smoke. Artificial trees can harbor mold as well as dust mites, which can also contribute to allergy symptoms.

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(2) I wash my sheets each week and use a hypoallergenic pillow. Is this overkill or does it matter?

I also shower before bed so that I don’t get any allergens from my hair onto the pillow. Haha, I know I sound like a crazy person. That said, I’ve heard that pillow cases can be carriers for allergens and since my face is on it, this seems to make sense.

Dr. Falcone: This is not overkill. For people with dust mite allergies, it is important to wash sheets/pillow cases at least once weekly with HOT water. Getting allergy mattress and pillow covers are also important. These help create a barrier between you and the dust mites.

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(3) Sometimes I get a cold in the winter. I think it’s a cold. But maybe it’s allergies. How do I know whether it’s just a normal winter cold or allergies?

I don’t even know if this matters or not, but I’ve been wondering about this.

Dr. Falcone: Colds are caused by viruses. Colds typically resolve within a week or so. Allergies linger. You are more likely to have a cold (as opposed to allergies) if your symptoms include fever, muscle, and/or joint aches.  Allergy symptoms are more likely to linger if left untreated.

(4) I don’t take nasal spray and allergy pill year-round because I heard it’s unhealthy. Do people take these year-round?

I go with Allegra and Flonase. I typically start taking them two weeks before seasonal allergy season starts because I think they take a while to ramp up. Then I drop them quickly after allergy season. I’ve never taken them in the winter, but I’m curious as to whether or not people take over-the-counter allergy medication year-round.

Dr. Falcone: In general, allergy medications and nasal sprays are safe for chronic use. Over-the-counter decongestant sprays should not be used for more than 3 days consecutively. People with high blood pressure should avoid decongestants.

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(5) I haven’t had my HVAC system cleaned in years. How do I measure the quality of the air in my home and do you have any tips to increase air quality?

I really sound like an allergy nerd. I own an air purifier that I put by my bed, but I’m not really sure if it does anything.

Dr. Falcone: An easy way to improve the air quality in your home is to keep it clean.  Vacuuming and dusting regularly can lower your exposure to allergens.  If you are the one performing the dusting/vacuuming, consider wearing a mask (like the kind people wear when mowing the lawn) if you are really sensitive.  Or consider having someone else who loves you do these chores so that your symptoms do not flare up.


Have allergy symptoms and need to see a doctor? Visit Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A., an Agenda partner, with 18 offices across North and South Carolina. I just recently visited their SouthPark office for a checkup this fall, and the experience was quick, easy and helpful.

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Publisher, golfer, dad and magician (seriously).