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Allergy problems while building

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by knucklehead G, Oct 9, 2010.

  1. I'm trying to keep doing this, as I love bass and making them is even better, but I am having serious breathing problems.

    Background info, I have been a lifelong year-round allergy sufferer. I've been on allergy immunotherapy injections for over ten years, eight shots a month plus prescription and OTC antihistamines. These things help control my day-to-day allergies greatly, but they can only inject me with stuff to beef up my tolerance to pollen, mold, ect. I can't seem to find a doctor willing to shoot me full of sawdust for some reason.


    I've tried wearing dust masks from woodworking stores, I've tried running ShopVacs with the tube thingy near where I'm working as a redneck dust collector, but every time I sand anything or I'm near pretty much any wood being cut / drilled / whatever I start wheezing within minutes and ultimately end up with a migraine and having an allergic asthma attack.

    As much fun as this all is, health > bass. Ventilated areas, fans or vacuums, masks or just sticking my face in the dust pile I get the same results every single time. Do any of you have suggestions on how to deal with this? I can't keep building if thirty minutes in the shop leaves me popping Benadryl like Pez and falling asleep with an EpiPen under my pillow.
  2. pnut166


    Jun 5, 2008
    Is it possible that it`s the particular woods you`re using ? I work in medicine; I`m not an immunologist, but it sounds like you`re covering all the bases and not much else you can do. Maybe try your meds BEFORE you go in the shop; alot of times it`s easier to prevent an allergic reaction than stop one once it`s started. Steroid inhaler(s) ?
  3. I used to do inhalers but I started getting nosebleeds, which is a side effect with most things you shoot up your nose. I start off every day taking all of my medicines, so its not like I take them once it starts. I change allergy medicines about every six months as I build up tolerances to their helpful effects. When you live with stuff like this, you figure out some tricks.

    Some woods are worse than others for sure. I can work with maple for a half hour or so before it gets bad, but I walked past someone cutting poplar in a Home Depot today and I might as well have eaten a spoonful of the stuff for how bad I reacted. I haven't found any woods so far that don't cause an allergic freakout.

    Maybe I'll have to start making graphite basses or something..
  4. DaLoCo


    Jun 16, 2010
    South Africa
    Why don't you look at a proper respirator with interchangeable filters. It a lot more efficient than a dust mask (also more expensive, so look after it) You get different filters for different gasses and fumes, so I figure the fine dust from wood should not be an issue at all for it.

    I used them when I was working for an aluminium smelter (extremely carcinogenic vapours and dust) and these filters were the norm, and salvation from potroom asthma. They are heavier than normal masks, and can be quite uncomfortable on hot summer days.

    You probably get them at workman safety shops, not too sure about home depot.
  5. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    A friend of mine had a very similar problem.
    He now does not build basses anymore.
    he now makes pickups exclusively.
    Very, very good ones.
  6. Lizooki


    Feb 24, 2008
    I have a similar problem. I end up with migraines if I don't wear a simple dust mask.
    Sounds like you need more tho'.
    A filtered respirator for sure .... but one other thing, you need to keep skin covered ..... this can also let you have the same allergy symptoms, even if you don't breathe the dust.

    But, is it worth it? Some kinds of wood dust is toxic ... it would be even more so for you, I assume.

  7. makkE


    Jan 19, 2010
    Normandie, France
    This is the advice I can give you from personal experience:

    Stop eating animal products and junk food (read: plant based wholefood diet). Worked for me. 99.9% allergy-free now, no more meds.

    If that sounds too drastic to you, at least cut down dairy, red meats and white flour/white sugar a lot, and eat more salads, vegetables and fresh fruit.
  8. Not that i know anything about it, but i would guess that if you whore somekind of mechanics jumpsuite, maybe gloves and a badass respirator you should be fine no?
    Youd be like an astronaut luthier! Not the easiest but if you like it that much it might be worth it!
  9. Lonnybass


    Jul 19, 2000
    San Diego
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    I'd also recommend hitting the showers and put on clean clothes as soon as you finish your day in the workshop to get the residual dust and particles off of your skin and hair.

  10. Skelf


    Apr 15, 2005
    Moffat D&G Scotland
    Builder AC Guitars.
    Buy a good mask 3M or equivalent and use organic vapour filters. The standard dust masks are useless.
  11. I noticed that you are using a nasal spray. Do you have upper respiratory problems and use that? My doctor gave me oral inhalers, but the nasal stuff wasn't good for me either. Just a non-medical thought.

    I too had allergies - to smog and nitrous oxide which you cannot see but I can taste and it burns my eyes and throat. At the same time, smog caused me to be very susceptible to anything that blew my way in the air, the smog just exacerbated the pulmonary problems I have.

    Certain woods caused me a lot of grief. OAK and REDWOOD were the worst until I discovered Cocobolo and Blood Wood. Hack and Gag!

    Since I am always fighting with Agent Orange induced COPD, I have to take really good care of my lungs and their associated parts of my respiratory system.

    One of the best things I ever did was take up the harmonica. It gives your lungs and the whole body really, a great workout.

    At first you'll get a little light headed - but people pay a lot of money for recreational drugs to get that feeling and if it comes for free with the harmonica ----- !

    Anyway - after a while you'll be able to jam along pretty good without passing out and I bet you'll notice that you feel yards better and your allergies are quite a bit better too.

    As far as not eating red meat and lots of fresh vegetables - well, that's OK - although I call that sort of a diet a bunch of well-aimed thought but it's really Bandini - I eat all the things I do in moderation and I love red meat and lots of dairy products. Mostly what you eat is a testimonial to what a marvelous machine your body is.

    Fruit, nuts and berries are all fine - delicious even - but we are not a ruminating animal and eschewing one set of foodstuffs over another - especially if they are pro-grains and leafy vegetables, is really outside the realm of normal digestibility for humans.

    As far as I know I cannot chew my cud nor do I have multiple stomachs to process whole grains, leafy vegetables and nuts.

    I feel if a foodstuff isn't digested on the first pass through your system, then it didn't belong there in the first place.

    I present:: corn. Run it through once and I bet you can re-serve it after you rinse it real well.
  12. Reticle


    Jul 24, 2009
    Charleston SC
    A Shoot Suit and a full face respirator?
  13. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    It is quite common for people to be very sensitive to certain wood species. If I were you I would try to spend some time working with each wood individually to see if a certain species is the culprit. IME wenge and Cocobolo are two to look out for. I generally find that the darker the wood the more likely the reaction. (this is an extreme generalization but largely true.) I think a respirator would be your next step. I have used them for finish work but they are a little uncomfortable for a long period of time. The advice about taking a shower when you leave the shop is a good one too.
  14. animal52


    Jul 1, 2006
    DC area
    Damn am I glad to see this thread. The same thing happened to me a few months ago, and it's good to know that I'm not the only person who can't get near a woodshop.

    I tried using a mask with a HEPA filter, but for me, that wasn't enough. I had some major breathing issues, and as a result, had to give up the idea of building instruments. If you've got it as bad as me, your only option is to go with a full re-breather setup. For me, it wasn't worth it, but it is an option.

    Strangely, I spent five years as a research chemist, and none of the reagents or solvents ever affected me like the woodshop does.
  15. So I need to try a HEPA filter, less junk food, and a new hobby, in that order.. I'll start hunting a filter and hope it works. I imagine me needing a full jumpsuit to go along with this so I don't touch any of the stuff, which will be interesting.

    This is an inspiring thought. Even if it comes down to me giving up wood, I could try making pickups..
  16. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Well it may not be for every one but he seems to be doing alright!
    He also feels much better now :)
  17. pnut166


    Jun 5, 2008
    Use your shop tools for making pickguards - if the acrylic dust doesn`t bother you. There are plenty of makes / models out there that there just aren`t readily - available pickguards.
  18. bolophonic

    bolophonic Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I had an allergic reaction to African Mahogany while on a job a few years back. I have no doubt that exposure to mahogany dust would kill me over time. No amount of dust filtration would help... the effects weren't respiratory, this was full-on anaphylactic shock -- like a bee sting slathered in peanut butter. I am completely out of woodworking nowadays, but I wonder sometimes what other types of wood would have a similar effect on me.
  19. Stealth


    Feb 5, 2008
    Zagreb, Croatia
    I hope one of the above methods works for you, allergies can be a real PITA.

    If not, welcome to the world of pickups. Please transfer your baggage over yonder. :D
  20. AltGrendel

    AltGrendel Squire Jag SS fan.

    May 21, 2009
    Mid-Atlantic USA.
    You could also look into what kind of gear gardeners use to spray pesticides (I know, I know), I've seen some in a full kit that included a helmet rig. Probably too expensive, but you never know.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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