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Anyone have this? I think I might!

Tags: Cedar, allergy, wood

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Yes! Strange you should write this now. I just got my first dulcimer this week and it has a cedar top. Every time I play it I come away with puffy eyes and a mild rash. Will things get better as the wood ages?

Wow. I never heard of such an allergy. That's no fun at all.  I had thought that those allergic to cedar were allergic to the tree pollens, not the actual wood.  I wonder if there is some kind of lacquer or other finish that might diminish your reaction.  Otherwise, I hope your luthier has a supply of sitka spruce to use instead.


I guess all those of you with cedar allergies better send all your dulcimers with cedar tops to me.

Airin;  the wood is aged.  What it is not is sealed inside.  And it's too late to do so. Cedar allergy is to the volatile oil in the wood itself.  Sanding can really get to some.  If I get a splinter of cedar it really stings and gets infected quickly.


Generally it's the Atlantic or Aromatic Cedar's that give people fits, not the Western Red Cedar...


If you continue to get puffy eyes etc. you should probably sell your dulcimer and get another that does not have cedar.

Gee.... sell my first dulcimer after only using it for 2 days!  

I bought it on eBay after several day of persistent bidding.... it was mailed... I got it Thursday night... opened & WOW.... loved it.... checked the tuning...  DAD.... not even out of tune from the transit... practiced... getting used to the difference from the dulcimer I had borrowed...

Then I took it to our Friday Fritters meeting.... for several hours strummed & played .... got positive feed back from my 'find' on eBay...


The rest of the day was miserable... thought I was coming down with something.... then a friend said "must be allergy..." hmmmm.... shut the door to the room with the dulcimer.... took an allergy pill.... feeling better!

Whoah, I'm with you Anne, so exciting to finally have a dulcimer and so shocking to experience the allergy to the cedar. But I totally understand what Ken is saying...might not resolve itself as long as the wood is unsealed.
Leave the dulcimer in a protected place to air out.  It's possible the seller rubbed some sort of polish or oil on the dulcimer to make it look nice, and you could be reacting to that rather than the cedar itself.  How old is the dulcimer?  If years old, I'd think the cedar'ness would have aired out by now and not be an issue for you.  But it may have some new oil on it that is giving you a reaction.

When I'm working with western red cedar I have to take over the counter allergy pills or sneeze and snot like crazy! Then when I come in from working, I go strait and shower or it itches me. I have allergies to lots of woods.

But for some reason they don't seem to bother me once I've sealed them. My favorite dulcimer is sassafras and western cedar...... Now that a smell combo! And I made it in 2006, and I can still catch a whiff now and then, but to no ill effects.....

Hope you figure something out.

Give Lisa's technique a week or so to see if the volatiles will air-out of your dulcimers.  Another thing to try is to take an antihistimine tablet say an hour before you sit down to play.  They do help with some allergy situations...


  I know it sounds harsh to suggest selling your "brand new" instruments; but if it's an allergy thing, that might be the kindest thing to do.

Wow, that really s****! Anyway, I agree that airing out is definitely worth a shot. I was very pleasantly surprised that this worked on a $72 vintage Cripple Creek dulcimer that sounded a lot sweeter than it smelled—it reeked of cigar smoke! I also cleaned it very carefully and then treated it with lemon oil, which it needed anyway because the wood was very dry, but the airing out did most of the work.

On the other hand, though I’m extremely sensitive to tobacco smoke, I’m not allergic to it. Playing the dulcimer didn’t make me cough. I also have very sensitive skin, and when I react to a product, I stop using it. Of course, having to sell or return a dulcimer is a much bigger deal, but to me, an allergic reaction would be a deal killer. If airing out doesn’t work, then the dulcimers might have to go. When people say they’re allergic to practice, they usually don’t mean it literally!

Thanks for the suggestions and advice - much appreciated.

In my case my dulcimer is a new one from Bill Berg. I like everything about it and if the airing out didn't do the trick I would consider asking him to make me the exact same type of instrument with less allergy prone wood, if there is such a thing.

But first I will give the airing out a try.
An allergic reaction to the finish has been mentioned but I wanted to add that many people with a nut allergy will also have an adverse reaction to a tung oil finish.  Several of the other types of oil finishes, like danish and teak, may contain tung oil so read the label carefully.

What cost

Dulcimer ...
As I purchased
 my very first one
On eBay no less
And waited somewhat patiently
For it to arrive unharmed ...

With joyful glee
To see such
 lovely workmanship
And strummed, getting used to
My first owned dulcimer ...

Could I know
I'd be allergic to it...
Cedar allergy...
How can that be!
But there it is...

So I try to figure out
What cost to use, enjoy,
My lovely cedar dulcimer…
Airing it out, wiping away dust,
Should I, could I
Play, strum, wearing a mask...

Lovely dulcimer
Humming as I strum
What cost
To enjoy
My acquisition... Benadryl at hand!

Ah chooooo …
was that a chord
Or a fret
Or a strum ...
August 2011
By ann t evans

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