Call it the yuletide sniffles or a case of the irritating Christmas tree syndrome.

A University of Texas researcher reports that many people who complain of having red, burning itchy eyes and a stuffy nose during the holiday season may actually be allergic to their Christmas trees.

Dr. Timothy Sullivan, head of the allergy unit at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Dallas, notes that Christmas trees are often covered with mold spores and sometimes can even produce pollen. Inside the house, these spores and pollen circulate in the air and can instigate an allergic reaction.

Allergies are really "misdirected protective reactions," Sullivan says. They are the body's way of responding to pollen, mold or other allergens, which are identified by the immune system as potent foreign invaders. These invaders are warded off in the same way the body would fight bacteria or other infections.

The result is inflammation of the eyes, nose and sometimes even the lungs, caused by activating white blood cells, known as mast cells. Drugs known as antihistamines help prevent -- or at least decrease -- the body's response.

Another way to avoid a yuletide allergy to Christmas trees, Sullivan says, is to buy an artificial tree. But from the You Just Can't Win department comes this warning from Sullivan: artificial Christmas trees can gather dust, and many people find dust as potent an allergen as mold or pollen.