(NEW YORK POST) – How itchy are thy branches.
A not-so-lovely reaction known as “Christmas tree syndrome” is making the holidays miserable for sufferers such as Niki Waldegrave, who was left with a painful skin rash after helping strap her family’s first natural Christmas tree to the roof of their car last week.
The journalist from Sydney, Australia, was devastated at becoming a likely victim of the condition, which can be a nasty consequence of this time of year, New York City dermatologist Dr. Doris Day tells The Post.
“People need to be aware of the risk because Christmas is not so merry if you have a tree allergy,” she says.
Symptoms include hives, rashes, wheezing, coughing, sore eyes and potentially serious asthma attacks.
Waldegrave, for her part, was left with bleeding blisters on her arms and hands after handling the pine that she purchased at a supermarket.
“It was one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced in my life,” Waldegrave tells The Post following her unexpected visit to the hospital.
The 39-year-old was shocked by the allergic reaction that happened last week after she picked out a 7-foot fir with her husband, Steven, and their 6-year-old son, Ernie.
Since childhood, she’d always had an artificial tree for the holidays, not a natural one.
“We’d just put the tree on the top of the car and my arms started itching, but I didn’t think about it too much,” she says, brushing it off as “eczema and allergies” she’d had since she was a little girl. But she went on to develop hives and blisters once she started decorating the tree.
“By the time I got to bed, I was covered from head to toe in angry red welts,” Waldegrave says, adding that a cold shower, moisturizer and an antihistamine tablet did nothing to help. When she saw blood on the sheets and began wheezing, she went to the hospital where she was treated with more antihistamines, as well as steroids.
Mercifully, the swelling on her face, hands, arms and legs started to go down, but she has wounds from the severe reaction.
Much to Ernie’s disappointment, the fresh tree was immediately taken out of the family’s home.
Day says the reaction is more common than you’d think. She says that, if you have a reaction, you might want to wash down the tree with water and wear gloves and long sleeves while decorating it.
“Every step of the way there is potential to have a hypersensitivity to evergreen conifers because of the resin, mold such as lichen, or even poison ivy which can grow nearby,” says Day, who is also a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health.
Antidotes include antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, and topical steroids, like hydrocortisone, which help ease itching.
“I’d recommend that someone like Niki with this type of reaction get an artificial tree,” she says. But even that can turn holiday cheer upside-down. “Fake [trees] also are treated with chemicals and get dusty so that can create issues, too.”