Combat health problems arising from the holidays

Millions of Americans have set up their Christmas trees and retrieved other holiday decorations. For some, these items can cause respiratory problems resulting from the mold and dust they’ve collected while sitting in a garage or attic for 11 months.

Over the next few weeks, families will spend time cleaning and organizing for visitng guests, but what about making sure the air in their home is safe for others to breathe?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans, on average spend approximately 90 percent of their day indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher than the air outdoors.

These conditions are made worse during the holidays with trees, decorations and candles around homes, which can be harmful for friends and family members with allergies, asthma or other respiratory issues.

Here are some common holiday decoration practices that contribute to unhealthy air quality in the home, plus ways to keep everyone safe this time of year:

— “Christmas Tree Syndrome”: While the pine scent may be nice to smell, the pollen and mold remaining on a live Christmas tree are dangerous to breathe. Researchers at State University of New York found that 70 percent of the molds found in live trees can trigger severe asthma attacks, fatigue and sinus congestion. Artificial trees can also cause problems, especially if they’re not wrapped properly and have accumulated dust and mold spores while in storage.

— Setting up live Christmas trees: Hose off the tree to remove pollen and mold and let dry before bringing it inside. Wear gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid sap touching your skin.

Wipe down the trunk of the tree with a solution of 1-part bleach, 20 parts lukewarm water.

— Setting up artificial trees: Wrap the tree securely, store in a cool and dry place. Wipe down the tree and ornaments before setting up.

Reduce the amount of spray snow to frost the tree and windows.

Aerosolized chemicals can cause irritant reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs.

Other suggestions:

— Dust off decorations: They’ve been stored away for 11 months in garages, basements or attics which are known hangouts for mold and dust mites, carrying many allergens. Wipe those decorations off thoroughly with a damp cloth when you take them out of storage. After the holidays, pack decorations in plastic bags, or bins, not cardboard. Cardboard is notorious for collecting dust and promoting mold growth.

— No scented sprays and flocking: Creating ambiance from a can could lead to irritated noses and throats, exacerbating respiratory issues. Instead, try a natural potpourri of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peels, simmering on the stove, to keep your home smelling fresh and festive.

— Snuff the scented candles: While they can create that warm cozy feeling, candles can also lead to respiratory distress in people with severe allergies or asthma. Some scented, petroleum-based candles can produce soot, as well as irritating particles and gasses. Candles made from soy, hemp, or beeswax, or even ones using LED “flickering light” effects may be a better option.

— Punt the poinsettias: The cheerful, traditional plant is everywhere during the holidays. But poinsettias are members of the rubber tree family. That means anyone allergic to latex could develop anything from a rash to severe breathing problems, just by touching or inhaling the allergen. The plants can also be mildly toxic to pets, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or skin or eye irritation in dogs and cats.