• health;
  • respiratory;
  • review;
  • volcanic ash;
  • volcanic gases


Background and Aims:  Volcano eruptions occur around the world and can have an impact on health in many ways both locally and on a global scale as a result of airborne dispersion of gases and ash or as impact on climate. In this review, a recent volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland is described and its effects on aviation around the globe and on respiratory health in those exposed to the volcanic ash in Iceland. Also, the effects of a large volcano eruption in Iceland in 1789 are described that also had effect on a global scale by causing air pollution.

Methods and Results:  The available studies reviewed here suggest that the acute and chronic health effects of volcanic ash depend on particle size (how much respirable), mineralogical composition (crystalline silica content) and the physico-chemical properties of the surfaces of ash particles. These can vary between volcanoes and even between eruptions, making comparison difficult. Acute respiratory symptoms suggesting asthma and bronchitis have been well described. Exacerbations of pre-existing lung and heart disease are common after inhalation of volcanic ash. Limited information is available on increase in mortality from recent eruptions but historical evidence is well described. No long-term effects on lung function have been found after exposure to volcanic ash. There are concerns for the long-term risks of silicosis from chronic exposure to volcanic ash but no cases have been described.

Conclusion:  Acute respiratory symptoms after exposure to volcanic ash are well described but no long-term effects have been found.

Please cite this paper as: Gudmundsson G. Respiratory health effects of volcanic ash with special reference to Iceland. A review. Clin Respir J 2011; 5: 2–9.