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Volcanic Eruptions, Air Quality and Your Health

Volcanic gases

Health Effects of Vog

Volcanic activity creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions are the primary group at risk of experiencing health effects from vog exposures, but healthy people may also experience symptoms.  It is very important to listen to your own body and take measures to protect yourself if you feel your health is being affected by vog. The ‘sensitive groups’ most likely to experience health impacts include:

  • People with asthma or other respiratory conditions
  • People with cardiovascular disease
  • Older adults
  • Infants and children
  • New or expectant mothers

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): Physically-active asthmatics are most likely to experience serious health effects from sulfur dioxide. Even short-term exposures can cause narrowing of the airways (bronchoconstriction), causing asthma symptoms. Potential health effects increase as sulfur dioxidelevels and/or breathing rates increase. At sulfur dioxide levels considered ‘unhealthy’ for the general population, as defined by the HDOH and EPA, even non-asthmatics may experience breathing difficulties. Short-term sulfur dioxide exposure is connected to increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in sensitive groups. No one knows the long-term health effects of exposure to volcanic sulfur dioxide.

Short-term health symptoms include:

  • Eye, nose, throat, and/or skin irritation
  • Coughing and/or phlegm
  • Chest tightness and/or shortness of breath
  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments
  • Some people also report fatigue and/or dizziness

Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Both long- and short-term particle exposures have been linked to various health problems. High levels of particle pollution are linked to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits, and even to death from existing heart or lung disease. Low levels of particulate matter are not considered as problematic for asthmatics as low levels of sulfur dioxide. Particle pollution can cause temporary health symptoms such as:

  • Eyes, nose and/or throat irritation
  • Coughing and/or phlegm
  • Chest tightness and/or shortness of breath

Contact your health care provider if you have any questions, or call 9-1-1 if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Source:   International Volcanic Health Hazard Network

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Social media: @USGSVolcanoes

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