As woodworkers at any level, we quickly become aware of the dangers surrounding the hobby or business. Recently, I have been bothered by (what I thought was) a sinus infection and was wondering if it was caused by the dust created while woodworking. I want to say right off the bat that this article is NOT intended to be medical advice but rather a list of things I have discovered during this time.
Can Woodworking cause a sinus infection? No, Woodworking is not directly the cause of sinus infections. While woodworking may indirectly cause a sinus infection, the dust itself cannot. “Infections” are caused by germs, bacteria, and such. Wood dust is only the cause of the irritation or allergic reaction that could later become infected.
Wood dust can indeed lead to sinusitis and other types of illnesses that are dangerous. The leading cause is sinusitis is not always from wood dust as you’ll find out.
Sinus Infection Vs Allergic Reaction
Let’s begin with one of the most misunderstood issues of woodworking and why wood dust can be so vile for your lungs and nasal passage. There’s an old expression that isn’t used much these days, but it relates to this issue in so many ways. This expression goes: “If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen”. Most of us will understand what this means, but essentially it relates to dealing with the very nature of woodworking.
If you can’t take working around wood dust, you either need to work around it by taking precautions. This means you also need to stop complaining about the problems and take some preventive actions to cope with the dust! Woodworking dust is then equated to every carpenter as springtime is to people who suffer spring allergies. Therefore, allergic reactions can be bothersome, but they can be avoided by taking the right steps.
Sinus infection on the other hand is nothing to joke about since many factors lead to an infection setting in. Since many types of wood are often chemically treated, it’s not always the wood dust itself that can cause a sinus infection. There are naturally occurring bacterial growths that inhabit dried wood additionally. Then there is the issue with the actual size of dust that will change everything, making wood dust even more problematic.
How to Keep Sawdust Out of Your Sinus in the First Place
In a simple answer, wearing a mask is always a good idea but not every mask is going to right for woodworking. Depending on the type of cutting or sanding equipment you’re using, the varying degrees of dust particles will create all sorts of sinus problems. Every dust filter will have a rating that immediately relates to MERV. This is short for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and can allow a rating of 1-15 to prevent micron-sized particles from getting thru.
The higher your MERV rating for a dust mask, the better the odds are for preventing dust particles from getting through the filter. Obviously the higher the MERV number, the higher the cost of a filter will become. This is no accident since these filters all have a purpose for keeping out a variety of harmful air-bourn particulates. The best general-use dust mask will be a filter that includes P95.
Obviously, many dust masks and respirators will have form-fitting rubber face covers that are meant to prevent dust from circumventing the filters. These will include filters and cartridges that prevent smaller dust particles from getting into your nose or lungs. Depending on your preference, you can choose respirators that include full-face or half-face versions. These are meant for serious woodworking professionals but are available to weekend woodworkers as well.
For more information about Dust Masks and Respirators, check out this site (not an affiliate link)
Personal Protection Equipment
We don’t often hear about this equipment, but working in any warehouse or factory you probably know what these items are already. According to OSHA, any business is responsible for training and reporting all safety and work hazard issues. Personal protection and protective equipment include respirators and dust masks. It also includes general safety items that are essential for woodworking.
· Safety Glasses
Working with sanding machines, grinders, cutting blades, and anything that creates dust and particles will be important to prevent getting into your eyes. Not only do wood chips and little pieces fly everywhere, but safety glasses also keep them from flying into your eyes. Many of the better quality brands will fit snugly over your eyes like goggles. These will further prevent smaller dust particles from irritating your eyes.
· Face shields
These are more efficient for covering the entire face and protect your face and eyes. They can be connected to portable filter systems and supply filtered air to those who wear them. These face shields will need cleaning more often by using a baby wipe or cleaning rags to remove heavy wood dust buildup. Some pros like using a portable mini vacuum with a brush attachment to suck off the sawdust from their face shield.
Not only can wood dust be irritating to the nasal passage and in your lungs, but your hands can also be affected by wooden dust. It’s also a good idea to avoid splinters since some types of wood can become septic if they get under your skin! In general, woodworking is better using rubberized grip gloves so you don’t lose grip of wooden pieces while cutting them.
· Hearing protection
This isn’t really related to sinus infections but you’ll be glad to know that your hearing will be protected. There are a couple different types you can use including earplugs and earmuffs. Using any kind of power tool is pretty loud, so it’s important to use any of these for preserving your hearing. Earmuffs are often better since they will also keep dust from getting into your ears.
· Steel-tip boots
Having a good pair of work boots will keep your toes from getting crushed by falling wooden beams or shop equipment. Every year, several amateur foot injuries occur when people are wearing sandals or sneakers in their garage. No matter what project you take on, wearing steel-toed safety shoes will be a must. Even if you aren’t working around heavy equipment, relatively small pieces of wood can still break a toe if they land on your foot.
By now you have some idea that dust can be irritating for health-related reasons. You can reduce dusty air considerably by using what is called a whole shop filter. This is a homemade item that any woodworker can build and doesn’t take too much hard work to get great results. Most of the tools and items you need can be purchased at the local Home Depot or hardware store.
The main item you want to look for is a standard ventilation fan. There are many DIY tutorials that you can find on the internet, but some of the best ideas are coming from Pinterest. These downloadable DIY guides give you many options for reducing wood and workshop dust from lingering in the air. To clean the filters, you and usually shake them off outside use a pressure washer to spray out the dust that builds up over time.
While this is only effective if you use a very strong ventilation fan, choose a fan that has multiple speeds for the amount of dust that is getting blown around. Alternatively, you can also go bigger by using a rug or floor blower. The fan blade drum can be reversed so that it sucks air rather than blowing air. This will be more effective if you want your woodshop to have any kind of particles sucked into a whole shop filter.
Adding a vacuum onto select tools such as reciprocating saws, table saws, and other power tools will allow a standard shop vacuum to suck up heavier dust and debris so that it’s not in the way on your workbench or tabletop.
How to clean dust out of your nose
There’s always going to be a certain amount of sawdust that can get up your nose, so cleaning it out is as easy as using good tissue. To get a complete clean is a bit more involved and will require a saline spray that won’t hurt your sinuses. You can find these at any pharmacy or drug store. The best is the kind that is used for babies since these are very mild and gentle for the inside of your nose. This is where you consult your medical professional – not take my advice.
You can also use baby wipes that can help remove larger particles in the material that they’re made from. It might sound strange but baby wipes are always a good idea to use when you don’t have any saline spray. Never use tap water since the minerals in tap water might be too harsh for flushing out wood dust. This is best if you only use a regular dust mask with a P95 rating.
Anything that did get through probably will get stuck on your nose hairs with very little chance anything was inhaled into your lungs. Once wood dust gets into your lungs, it’s not going to be easy to remove. This is the whole reason you want to wear a dust mask to prevent these micro wood particles from getting into your sinuses.
A list of toxic woods
Obviously, some woods will be very bad to breathe, so there is no exception for getting sloppy when sinus safety is concerned. Breathing in toxic wood can lead to a whole slew of side effects that will leave you feeling terrible. Here are some of the more common side effects of nasty wood problems you might feel by breathing its sawdust.
· Headache · Nausea · Lung irritation · Sneezing · Vomiting · Nose bleeds · Asthma · Headache · Giddiness · Migraines · Rashes · Runny Nose · Nervous system problems · eye swelling/pink eye · throat dryness and thirst · Coughing · Lung congestion
Here are the types of wood you want to be extremely careful about working with if you want to do woodworking that involves cutting or sanding them. Each one of these will directly affect your skin, eyes, lungs, and circulatory system. Some of these will only affect your eyes or lungs while others can be harmful to your nervous system after being absorbed into your blood. You can view the entire list with the link at the bottom.
- A partial list of Toxic Woods:
- Australian Cashew Nut wood
- Western red cedar
- Milky Mangrove
- Pau Ferro
- Rosewood (Any variety)
For more information check out this article on Wood Allergies and Toxicity (link to wood-database.com)
Sawdust and Your Lungs
Another respiratory tract issue that sawdust can contribute to is the Lung. This is the worst of all the things that can happen since you can’t remove sawdust and dust particles from your lungs. This is also where fungal infections can start since the toxins in wood dust will create lung and sinus infections. These can be medically treated but only after the fact. This is why an ounce of prevention is worth saving thousands in medical costs and treatments.
For those who work in the woodworking industry, these are ongoing problems that have been around for ages. Shipbuilders, wood construction workers, carpenters, and cleaning staff in lumber mills all are common victims of lung-related and breathing problems. When it comes to a sinus infection, the signs are often mislabeled or misdiagnosed. Most people will think they simply have ordinary cold symptoms but this can lead to serious problems later.
Aside from the associated problems of breathing wood dust, most carpenters will also wear long sleeve shirts to prevent this dust from getting on their skin. There are cases where skin rashes, boils, and dermatitis are all common side effects of being exposed to wood dust. The worst of this is directly linked to sinus infection otherwise known as sinusitis. These can be treated and aren’t life-threatening, but if not treated can cause serious respiratory harm!
By taking all of these safety measures, you can avoid many of these problems. Just as every skilled worker learns a trade, safety and prevention are all part of the job. Even when you are practicing a hobby or craft, this should not be avoided either. All materials that you work around need to be treated with basic safety rules. This way you can avoid getting exposed to wood dust that could get into your nose or lungs.
We hope this gives you a good idea of how to be properly prepared while practicing any woodworking craft. If you haven’t used any of these safety steps before, now you can upgrade your work area to prevent being exposed to toxic or hazardous wood dust. You can also find out if the wood you’ve been using is also toxic and what effects you’ve experienced from being exposed to that wood sawdust.