A wood allergy is a reaction by the immune system caused by chemicals called quinones. Derivatives from quinones bind with skin proteins which are considered by the immune system as foreign. Exposure to wood dust has also been associated with other health issues due to the natural chemicals in the wood, or substances in the wood such as bacteria, molds, or fungi. Wood dust is considered carcinogenic to humans according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). According to them, wood dust causes cancer of the nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, and of the nasopharynx. Wood dust is also associated with toxic effects, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and respiratory system effects which include decreased lung capacity.
Symptoms can vary among patients but generally, the allergic reaction to wood resembles contact dermatitis with some redness, swelling, blisters and irritation. Generally, the allergic reaction appears after 24/48 hours of prolonged contact. We recommend seeing an allergist as soon as you notice a rash or irritation.
DIAGNOSIS and TREATMENT
If you think you are sensitive to wood, consult your doctor or an allergist. Physical evaluation, a medical history, and patch tests will help in finding the cause and rule out other disorders. The treatment will be mainly symptomatic as with other allergies. Antiallergy medications may be prescribed. If the reaction is mostly dermatologic, topical corticosteroids may be given (with prescription).
HOW TO CONTROL EXPOSURE TO WOOD DUST
- Know which type of wood is being used and all hazards associated with it
- Substitute with another type of wood with no or fewer known health effects if possible
- Wear respiratory protection when appropriate
- Use protective clothing and gloves to reduce skin exposure
- Practice good personal hygiene
- Bag and seal dust waste to prevent it from reentering the air
|Health Effects Reported with Various Types of Woods|
|Wood Type||Health Effects|
|Alder (common, black, red)||Dermatitis (black alder); decrease in lung function (red alder)|
|Aspen||No health effect reported|
|Beech||Dermatitis (wood cutter’s disease) due to lichens growing on the bark of beech trees, rhinitis, asthma, nasal cancer|
|Cedar (western red)||Asthma, allergic contact dermatitis, sensitizer, decrease in lung function, eye irritation and conjunctivitis, rhinitis|
|Douglas Fir||Contact eczema, decrease in lung capacity|
|Fir (grand, balsam, silver, alpine)||Skin irritation, dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma, possible decrease in lung function|
|Hemlock||Skin irritation, decreased lung function|
|Larch (European, western)||Allergic dermatitis from European larch; no reports with western larch|
|Maple||Rhinitis, asthma, Maple Bark Stripper’s disease (mould spores in bark)|
|Pine (white, lodgepole, jack)||Skin irritation, contact dermatitis, Wood-Pulp Worker’s disease (mould in bark), rhinitis, asthma|
|Poplar||Contact dermatitis, sensitizer|
|Rosewood||Eczema, allergic contact dermatitis|
|Spruce||Skin irritation, Wood-Pulp Worker’s disease (mould spores in bark), decrease in lung function|
|Teak||Toxic, dermatitis, sensitizer|
|Walnut (black)||Skin irritation, rhinitis, possible asthma|
|Yew||Irritation of skin, dermatitis, toxic|
Be aware that other products used on or in wood may also have hazards. Resins, pesticides, paint, paint strippers, glues, adhesives, waterproofing compounds, lacquers, varnishes, sealants, dyes, and other products are examples. Always read and understand the safety data sheet associated with these products to make sure they are being used, handled, and stored appropriately.
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