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N Z Med J. 1997 Mar 28;110(1040):90-1.

Under the volcano: fire, ash and asthma?

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Wellington School of Medicine.



To investigate the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in known asthmatics, following exposure to airborne volcanic ash particles caused by the eruptions of Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand, commencing September 1995.


A one page postal questionnaire was sent to 1392 previously identified asthmatics 2 months after the first major eruption.


Two hundred and thirty seven subjects had moved from the area, died or gone overseas since the original contact 4 years previously; therefore the target population was 1155 subjects of whom 361 lived in the exposed area and 794 in the nonexposed areas. The response rates were 246 (68.1%) in the exposed group and 477 (60.1%) in the nonexposed group making a total of 723 individuals. The prevalence of nocturnal shortness of breath in the last two months was 29.3% in the exposed group and 24.7% in the nonexposed (OR = 1.26, 95% CI; 0.83-1.78). Similarly 30.9% of the exposed group had an asthma attack in the last 2 months compared to 31.9% of the nonexposed group (OR = 0.96, 95% CI; 0.69-1.33). Finally, 48.4% of the exposed group used asthma medication in the 2 months following the eruption in comparison to 53% of the nonexposed group (OR = 0.83, 95%, CI; 0.61-1.12).


The study showed no association between living in an area exposed to volcanic ash particles and either asthma symptoms or the use of asthma medication. There was a small but nonsignificant increase in nocturnal shortness of breath in the exposed group.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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