Hawaii’s Kilauea has been spewing lava, prompting thousands of nearby residents to evacuate.
Now a new risk threatens nearby residents: Laze.
Laze, “lava + haze”, occurs when the lava reaches the ocean. When lava meets seawater, plumes of hydrochloric acid and volcanic ash enter the air. This can cause significant eye, lung and skin irritation.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) warns this can be deadly. They also report sulfur dioxide emissions from the eruptions have tripled.
Residents are urged to avoid areas where lava has met the ocean.
Volcanic ash can prompt a multitude of health risks…not only from a particulate standpoint but also from the sulfur dioxide levels. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless, though stinky gas that can cause irritation to skin, eyes, and respiratory system linings.
Let’s break these health risks down:
Volcanic ash can irritate the respiratory passages causing the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Mucous production
- Shortness of breath
- Painful breathing
Those with asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis or other respiratory ailments may find themselves having exacerbations of their symptoms. Oxygen requirements will increase. Those requiring oxygen or inhalers will need to have extra supply during this time (medical offices may be closed during ash clean up so don’t wait until the last minute.)
Volcanic ash has large and small particles that can irritate the eyes increasing their sensitivity to light and making vision difficult. Moreover ash can irritate the cornea and conjunctiva causing redness, discharge and itching.
Skin may become irritated during these times and those with skin allergies or eczema may find themselves having flare-ups.
During a volcanic eruption, smoke plumes not only change the air quality but also visibility. During times of day when there is less light, road visibility obscures pedestrians and nearby cars. Drivers are urged to avoid the road during these smoky times.
Water quality can become affected by the ash or pH changes if supply becomes contaminated. Moreover, water use increases for cleanup so shortages may ensue.
Short blood supply
Those who donate blood in nearby areas may be less likely to donate during this difficult time leading to local blood shortages. Those who can donate blood are urged to contact the American Red Cross, United Blood Services, or Blood Bank of Hawaii.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio.
She is also a Board Certified Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Touro University Nevada