Can Driftwood Make You Sick? You Could Be Allergic


As a very versatile material, driftwood can be used for decorations, sculptures, aquariums, and other projects. But, as with anything that you plan to use in or around your house, making sure it‘s safe for you and others should always be a top priority. When working with driftwood you should consider the following – the place where it was found, possible allergic reactions, how to treat the driftwood

Can driftwood cause allergic reactions?

Driftwood itself can‘t cause allergies. The main allergenic compound in trees is their pollen – which has been washed away on driftwood from spending a sizable amount of time in the water. But it should be considered that during the time wood spends in the water, algae will start growing on its surface. These algae produce protein compounds that can be allergenic. But, there is no need to be worried, as these allergic reactions are always mild, and severe reactions have not been described.

In any case, you experience any of the following symptoms – sneezing, a runny nose, red and watery eyes, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and itchy rashes (hives) you should contact your doctor immediately.

Can driftwood make you sick?

Although it’s very rare, there is a possibility, and you should take a few precautions to ensure your safety when using driftwood.

Firstly, never collect or use driftwood that came from man-made structures, as they may have been treated with various harmful chemicals. Only take natural driftwood. Secondly, if you decide to take a piece of driftwood with you, make sure it comes from a body of water that isn’t contaminated with any chemicals or in the vicinity of factories or similar places which can contaminate the water. These toxins can imbue into the wood and cause health issues.

As driftwood spends a lot of time in the water, it is inevitable that bacteria and algae colonize its surface. At the very least, be sure to thoroughly wash any piece of driftwood you take, and let it dry in the sun. Besides that you can also boil the piece of driftwood – at 200°F for 2 hours, to ensure the removal of microorganisms. A third option would be disinfecting it with bleach – submerge the driftwood in one to nine solutions of bleach to water for seven days to eliminate any bacteria and algae.

A thing often overlooked is splinters. While overlooked as a minor thing, splinters carry the risk of causing infection. To prevent this, carefully inspect any piece of driftwood you want to use for sharp and loose pieces, and remove with proper tools. If you get a splinter, carefully remove it with tweezers, wash and disinfect the area with soap and a mild disinfectant. If you notice any redness, swelling, or pain, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Lastly – never use driftwood for a fire.  Burning wood that has been saturated with salt and minerals from spending time in the water will cause to release of toxic compounds such as dioxins, PCDDs, and others, which are carcinogenic. Besides that, these compounds can react with the metal in your stoves and damage them, and these compounds are bad for the environment. Using proper firewood is much safer for you and the environment, than driftwood.

To summarize:

  • Driftwood itself isn’t bad for you, but proper care should be applied for its safe use
  • Don’t use driftwood from man-made structures or polluted water
  • Properly clean and disinfect any piece of driftwood you plan on using
  • Inspect for sharp and loose edges to avoid splinters
  • If you feel any health issues, contact your doctor immediately
  • Never burn driftwood

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