Sawdust allergy - what to do?

(Note: I posted this same request in the Barn House, just to get maximum input)

I am deep into an outdoor project using redwood, that involves a lot of work on the table saw. Apparently, although I have never had any problem with sawdust before, I am intensely allergic to redwood sawdust (anyone ever heard of anything so specific before?). It’s not that I inhale sawdust, because I use very good dust masks; it is apparently the dust that gets on my skin.

I have a very small shop and I do have a rudimentary dust-collection system, but because of the saw design it is not very effective for that tool.

I can’t stop the project now, but I really, really don’t want to have to go through several days of unpleasantness every time I work on this project. In the nature of things (because I have a day job) I normally work on the project on the weekends.

Last weekend, every time I finished working for the day I immediately showered and put on clean clothes. This helped some, but not nearly enough. I did not wash my work clothes every day, which may be part of the problem. But my regular work clothes are just an old pair of pants and an old shirt, and they aren’t designed to keep stuff off my skin.

I am contemplating using one of those full-body paper-y suits which I guess is used mostly for painting. They cost around $10, and I don’t know how often I would be able to re-use them, but it would be worth it to me to buy one a week if that would keep me from breaking out in a rash every week for several days. I’ve never used one before, do you think this would keep sawdust off my skin?

Any other suggestions out there?

Have you tried taking non-drowsy antihistamines before you start each day? In combination with freshly washed clothes, that might make a difference.

Are you sure it’s just sawdust giving you the problems. It would be bad if you made a chair that irritated your skin every time you sat in it.

People I know who used to work in lumber mills and developed cedar sawdust allergy’s have told me that it seemed to get worse over time (years). I doubt this helps you but I would soldier on through this project, maybe with an antihistamine, and then avoid redwood sawdust in the future.

Thank you for the responses.

Antihistamines don’t seem to help the dermatitis, at least not at recommended dosages.

Sitchensis, that’s interesting, I did not know that cedar sawdust allergy was a thing. I have a theory about this, and that strengthens it. My theory is that whatever naturally-occurring chemical or substance that woods like redwood and cedar have that make them resistant to weather and insects has a high potential to be irritating to humans too.

See an allergist. Said allergist may recommend using the nonsedating antihistamine meds (zyrtec, claritin most commonly) in higher doses (a common, and often successful strategy I’ve employed on a number of patients myself) or recommend some other therapeutic options like leukotriene inhibitors or other stuff.

I had a horse that broke out in full body hives from pine shavings, but had to be in a barn with pine shavings on a periodic basis. I ‘controlled’ his reaction with mega doses of Spirulina given starting the day before and through out his exposure period.

I don’t think Spirulina has a toxicity level established for it. It is claimed to have been looked at as a protein or food source for space travel and others have claimed it has been used as a wafer form food source.

Also, I have only used Spirulina and not any other form of or related blue-green algae.

You can buy it at GNCs and for a human, I would start out with 5 caps morning and night, then see if that helps your reaction.

If you do happen to try it, let me know if it has any impact on your reaction.

Well, it’s a novel approach; how on earth did you hit on spirulina?

Qadgop, I appreciate your medical knowledge. I am already on Montelukast, which I believe is a leukotriene inhibitor, for my regular old asthma. I checked on trying to get in to see an allergist on my insurance, and by the time they had an opening, I will be finished with the project. I do have an appt with my regular doc early in June, so he might have some input.

I have decided to go with the full body paint suit with a hood, it is a plasticized paper so it should keep the particles out. With a good respirator and gloves, and the sleeves taped around my wrist, I am hoping for the best (other than dying from the heat, that is). I’ll know tomorrow.

I deal with a lot of rehab horses. I first started using it to prevent ‘sweet itch’ in a mare (summer time bugs make her all itchy because of an allergic reaction to the bugs trying to lay eggs in her main and on her mid line). This causes them to rube their main and tail bald each summer. She is on it all summer and has no problems now.

The horse allergic to pine shavings was REALLY allergic (after a couple hours in a stall, he had bumps all over his body that would take about three days to go away). I didn’t want to dope him up with antihistamines and the spirulina has no other effects (no drowsiness, no feeling high, nothing).

I just tried to find a link to any study of the effects, but can’t seem to find it. It is a known substance in horse rescue and there seems to have been studies, but no one actually gives a cite for them (this includes University of MD who states that spirulina has a blocking effect against histamines that have been demonstrated in animal studies.)

Update, for anyone who might be interested:

I did try the full body “painter” suit, with a hood, and it worked pretty well. I hadn’t been having any problem with my lower half, so I cut off the legs and just tucked it into my trousers. I do need to do a better job with the gap at the wrist, those are the only parts that are itchy after two days of working on this stuff this past weekend. There is elastic, but it isn’t very strong. I’ll figure out something for that. And these suits are cheap enough that I don’t mind buying a new one for each weekend.

The hood was especially important to keep dust off my scalp, which would get very itchy.

Also, I bought new antihistamines and they did provide some temporary relief, including for the asthma. I discovered the ones I tried before were way expired. But I can’t live on those things, and I am much happier to have found a means of prevention.

Head over to a site called Lumberjocks and you’ll find dozens of threads on dust collection and machine modification for dust control. If you’re going to continue with the woodworking hobby you’ll want to maximize your control of dust anyway, if only to minimize problems in discovering another allergy for a different tree.

As for the redwood, is that pretreated stuff? Some of the pretreatment solutions used to include some kind of cyanide-related* pest deterrent. I don’t know if that stuff is still in use any more.


*I think I heard everyone is allergic to cyanide :wink:

I had a similar allergic reaction to epoxy during a build. I think you’re going to seriously fuck your shit up if you try to persevere. My goddamn eyes almost swelled shut, and the rash itched like I was sentenced to the deepest ring of hell. If I were you, and I had to complete it, I would take at least two weeks off for my body to reset, and then don a full-on Breaking Bad suit, gloves, and respirator.

I have been working on some archery bows made from yew wood. The bark is very toxic and the sawdust has caused me sneezing fits that last for hours and keep me up all night. I have decided to abondon any new projects involving this wood.

No, not pre-treated, just regular redwood. Reading up on sawdust allergies, I find that almost any wood can cause allergies for at least some people. Redwood seems to be somewhere in the middle of the pack, toxicity-wise.
drastic_quench**, I think my full-body paint suit was successful enough that I will be able to finish this project, with modification to make sure my wrists are covered. After this project, Never Again.