Cedar Allergies

After prolonged exposure, you can develop a severe allergy to Cedar, and also to some other wood types. January 20, 2010

I have been using red cedar on and off for over 20 years. I have built canoes, doors, tables and ect. I have never had a problem using cedar till now. When I get home at night I start wheezing even if I just walk though the shop to the office when someone is cutting. I have gone to the doctors a couple of times and was given some inhalers to take care of my problem. Has anyone else had this problem?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
I too have developed an allergic reaction to red cedar over the last few years. If I have to cut it my whole face swells and I can't breathe. My skin also breaks out if I am in contact with it very much. Luckily I rarely use it for anything.

From contributor R:
I remember cutting cedar siding (not red) and throwing up from the dust. I figured whatever keeps bugs out of it was not so good for humans either.

From contributor B:
From my limited research on the subject, my understanding is that the longer you are exposed to a particular substance, the more likely you are to develop an allergic reaction to it. It sounds to me like you've hit that point.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Fine cedar dust will cause breathing problems and also skin allergies, as noted by others. It is well documented. It is also associated with an increase in nasal cancer.

From contributor G:
Is a regular dust mask enough to protect against cedar dust? It doesn't give off-gasses or anything that would required a canister mask - does it?

From contributor S:
I used to build hundreds of cedar boxes for a wine store and it got to the point where I couldn't even go and pick up the cedar in my van. I would have to stop at the side of the road, get out and breath. The last batch of boxes we did, I had to leave the shop and let my staff finish them, then clean up the shop before I could go back in. I went and had all the allergy tests done and the one thing that came up was cedar. To this day I am very sensitive to the smell of cedar. I can walk into a store and if there are any products made from cedar I can tell almost instantly. I did try wearing different kinds of masks, but the fine dust gets all over your clothes and hair. Unless you were to wear a Hazmat suit and gear it is still an issue.

From contributor A:
Allergies often take time to develop. I worked with a ton of polyester resin and bondo for years, doing repairs and some serious amateur boat building (mold for a 42' boat). After the mold construction, I became sensitized to the point that seconds after opening a can of bondo the styrene makes my goatee itch like crazy. Those cedar and red wood splinters sure fester overnight.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
As noted, and I agree, a regular mask is not good enough. You need the best mask you can buy (non-canister). However, the dust on you and your clothes will be an issue as well that the mask will not address.

From contributor J:
My son found out he was allergic to Rosewood, as his roommate had a woodworking hobby shop in the garage. Some of the dust made it into the house and he turned red and had rashes - it was not a good thing. He could not even walk through the garage for any reason and not get a reaction. Once you become allergic to something as toxic as red cedar or rosewood you have to stay away from it for good. I was getting that way with pine when we made furniture in the 80's, mostly rashes that came on fast. We switched to hardwoods and no more problems. I can do some work with pine now, but not much. Red cedar is a known problem wood.

From contributor B:
I was cutting cedar in my basement shop several years ago with no ventilation and no dust collection. Within 30 minutes I was in the ER receiving a nebulizer treatment. A week later my garage was converted to my shop complete with dust collection and two large garage doors. Yes, you can become allergic. You can also become an asthmatic. Nasal cancer is also on the rise among woodworkers.

From contributor S:
For me it's white oak and formaldehyde. Cedar is ok (so far). I can't go into a fabric store because of the formaldehyde in the fabric. But once it's washed it's ok. White oak is a minor problem thus far, but I avoid it if I can.