This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Breathe in Volcanic Ash

Exposure to volcanic ash may cause some health problems, which includes respiratory problems, skin irritation, eye problems, and more. It is important to know your risk and what you can do to avoid them.

This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Breathe in Volcanic Ash

On January 12, Taal Volcano is placed on Alert Level 4 by The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS). Filipinos from all over the world were startled by the eruption of Taal Volcano, affecting areas in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), with ashfall reaching Metro Manila.

According to National Geographic, volcanic ash is a mixture of rock, mineral, and tiny glass particles expelled from a volcano during a volcanic eruption.

These tiny particles that make up volcanic ash can travel long distances, carried by winds. As the ash hits the ground, it may create a thick layer of dust-like material on surfaces for miles around the area of eruption.

Unlike the ash produced by burning wood and other organic materials, volcanic ash can be dangerous to one’s health. When volcanic ash is inhaled by a person, it can cause eye, nose and lung irritation, as well as breathing problems. Volcanic ash may also pose contamination in our food and water supplies.

National and local governments in the Philippines, as well as the private sectors, warned the public of potential health effects of ashfall to the body and to stay indoors.

What are the risks of volcanic ash to your health?

Skin burns and irritation

The volcanic ash contains acidic compounds that may burn the skin and cause redness, and when scratched abnormally may lead to infection.

Lung problems, nose, and throat irritation

Ash particles can be so fine that they are breathed deep into our lungs. From the onset, it may cause nasal irritation or a runny nose. Moreover, ashfall, when inhaled, irritates and clogs the airways making it difficult to breathe. With high exposure, individuals will also experience increased coughing and sore throat.

Eye irritation

When tiny particles from volcanic ash penetrate inside your eyes, it can get itchy, red, and painful. In the worst cases, it may cause abrasions or scratches in the cornea.

Gastrointestinal issues

Food and water supplies covered with ashfall are contaminated as the volcanic ash contains toxic components such as fluorine, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. This may cause poisoning and allergies to some. Vegetables and fruits should be washed thoroughly.

Trauma and injuries

Heavy ashfall may cause poor to zero visibility outside and slippery roads that may lead to vehicular accidents. Ashfall deposits can also damage your home and properties.

What to do when exposed to ashfall?

1. Wear a protective face mask.

Health professionals recommend wearing an N95 mask, which can filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles. But if this is not available, a surgical or cloth mask with a clean damp towel underneath can help.

2. Soothe irritated eyes with eyedrops and avoid wearing contact lenses.

Volcanic ash has acidic and silica content that can irritate the eyes. Avoid rubbing your eyes with your hands and use eyedrops to get rid of the tiny particles that went inside your eyes. Wear protective eye gear such as goggles and avoid wearing contact lenses in the meantime, as this can cause more irritation in your eyes.

3. Stay indoors as much as possible.

Minimize your exposure to ash by staying indoors. Keep doors and windows closed to prevent dust particles from getting inside your house.

4. Seek medical advice.

It is best to consult a doctor right away if you continue to experience discomfort in your body. Your doctor will be able to prescribe you the medicine you need to avoid serious health problems.

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