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The Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash - A (condensed) Guide for the Public

The following is a condensed version of The Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash - A guide for the public.

The following is a condensed version of The Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash - A guide for the public. For the full version click here.

Respiratory effects

Common acute (short-term) symptoms include:

  • Nasal irritation and discharge (runny nose).

  • Throat irritation and sore throat, sometimes accompanied by dry coughing.

  • People with pre-existing chest complaints may develop severe bronchitic symptoms which last some days beyond exposure to ash (for example, hacking cough, production of sputum, wheezing, or shortness of breath).

  • Airway irritation for people with asthma or bronchitis; common complaints of people with asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

  • Breathing becomes uncomfortable.

Why are people with chronic lung problems at special risk?

The fine ash particles irritate the airways and cause them to contract, making breathing more difficult in people who already have lung problems. The fine dust also causes the lining of the airways to produce more secretions which can cause people to cough and breathe more heavily. Asthma sufferers, especially children who may be heavily exposed to the ash when they play, may suffer bouts of coughing, tightness of the chest and wheezing. Some people who have never knowingly had asthma before, may experience asthma symptoms following an ashfall, especially if they go outdoors in the ash and over-exert themselves.

Eye symptoms

Eye irritation is a common health effect as pieces of grit can cause painful scratches in the front of the eye (corneal abrasions) and conjunctivitis. Contact lens wearers need to be especially aware of this problem and leave out their lenses to prevent corneal abrasion from occurring.

Common eye symptoms include:

  • Eyes feeling as though there are foreign particles in them.

  • Eyes becoming painful, itchy or bloodshot.

  • Sticky discharge or tearing

  • Corneal abrasions or scratches.

  • Acute conjunctivitis or the inflammation of the conjunctival sac that surrounds the eyeball due to the presence of ash, which leads to redness, burning of the eyes, and photosensitivity.

Skin Irritation

This occurs infrequently.

Symptoms include:

  • Irritation and reddening of the skin.

  • Secondary infections due to scratching.

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