By Olivia Camille F. Reyes, M.D.
Illustrations by Roc Verdera
Q: We don’t have much ashfall in our area. Should we continue to stay indoors?
A: Ash exposure varies in severity, depending on the proximity to the volcano. Nearby areas are subjected to more prolonged and heavy exposure. In general, a continued fallout is expected after 72 hours since the volcanic eruption, so it is best to continue limiting outdoor activities to only what is necessary. Closely monitor government advisories to see what areas need prolonged protection beyond this time. Ashfalls are also affected by other factors, such as continued eruption from the volcano or weather conditions.
Q: We’ve sealed all the doors and windows. Is this enough to contain the volcanic ash from getting inside the house?
A: Volcanic dust is so fine that it is impossible to completely avoid it from getting inside the house. A good cleaning is necessary indoors. The best method would be to use a damp mop or cloth to efficiently trap ash particles prior to vacuum cleaning or sweeping, which may disperse them in the air. Remember to wear protective gear while cleaning the house.
Q: When should we wear our mask?
A: Continue wearing protective equipment up until 72 hours of the volcanic eruption or as advised by the local authorities. In considering what type of mask to use, an N95 mask is essential for areas in close proximity to the volcano where a greater amount of ash has fallen. People who reside in areas farther away can use simple reusable cloths or disposable dust masks to prevent significant inhalation of volcanic particles. It is highly recommended for kids to wear masks that are fit for children. Masks for adults will not keep the particles away as they are loosely fitted for kids. Continue to wear protective eyewear and clothing that cover arms and legs to limit exposure.
Q: What else can we do to make sure we’re clean and safe?
A: Washing your hands prevents ash particles from being transferred to different parts of your body, especially your eyes or areas near your mouth and nose.
Q: What should we do if any of my family members experience minor eye irritation?
A: Signs of minor irritation include tearing, eye redness, itching, a gritty foreignbody sensation, or even pain when opening and closing your eyes. In the event that any of these are felt, do not, under any circumstances, rub your eyes. The eyes have a natural way of flushing out the dirt by blinking and lubrication from tearing. If the sensation persists, simple eye irrigation can be done by opening your eyes over a cupped hand or basin with clean water to help remove the particles without having to rub or touch the eye directly
Q: How about for minor skin irritations?
A: Skin irritation may be apparent, especially if bigger particles come into contact with the skin. If redness, itching, and rashes occur, make sure to clean the exposed areas gently with soap and water. Taking a dose of an over-the-counter antihistamine as directed by the label will help break the itch-and-scratch cycle that worsens the condition.
Q: What to do with minor respiratory irritation?
A:Respiratory manifestations include onset of nasal discharge, a gritty, painful, or burning sensation in the throat when swallowing, throat itching, and cough. Drinking lots of fluids to keep yourself hydrated is important, with cold-temperature food and drink helping ease the discomfort in the pharyngeal area. Over the counter lozenges and throat sprays may also help alleviate the signs and symptoms. Gargling with a chlorhexidine or non-alcohol mouthwash may help decontaminate the oral area, avoiding the stinging sensation while preventing secondary bacterial infection.
Q: With regards to difficulty of breathing, how do I know when it’s time to bring them to the ER?
A: Difficulty of breathing, and increased severity and persistence for hours of the signs and symptoms of minor irritation warrant a trip to the emergency room for immediate assessment and management. Difficulty of breathing can be observed by a number of ways: from widening of the nostrils to noisy breathing, fast breathing, and increased effort manifesting as deepening of the spaces in the collarbones and in between the ribs. Disorientation, irritability, pallor or bluish discoloration of lips and nailbeds are late signs and signify serious breathing problems from lack of oxygen. Individuals with existing lung problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, as well as infants and young children with naturally small airways, are more likely to manifest with the above symptoms, requiring immediate attention.
While minor effects do not warrant an ER consultation, it is still necessary to follow up with your general physician to see if further treatment is needed. With the help of these tips, here’s hoping everyone stays healthy in the coming days. Stay safe, everyone.
About the author: Dr. Olivia Camille F. Reyes, M.D. specializes in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. She holds clinics in Centre Medical Internationale,The Medical City, and UP Philippine General Hospital.