Volcanic ash health advice

Behind the Headlines

Friday April 16 2010

The ash is from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has stressed that only a very low concentration of ash particles is likely to reach ground level in the UK and this should not cause serious harm.


What are the possible health effects?

Volcanic ash from most eruptions generally causes few health problems and it is not considered to be a significant health risk.

Ash can affect breathing and cause irritation of the eyes and skin. The severity of these problems is affected by the concentration of ash, the duration of exposure to ash, how fine the ash particles are and what the ash is made of.

The amount of ash that may reach the ground in the UK is likely to be small and not enough to cause serious harm.


Is anybody at special risk from the ash?

People with existing respiratory conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma, may feel the effects more than others. In affected areas, they are recommended to carry inhalers or other medication as a precaution.

People who wear contact lenses may want to avoid wearing their lenses in areas with ash fall.


How do I know if there is ash in the air?

The HPA says that if people who are outside notice symptoms such as “itchy or irritated eyes, runny nose, sore throat or dry cough, or if they notice a dusty haze in the air or can smell sulphur, rotten eggs, or a strong acidic smell, they may wish to limit their activities outdoors or return indoors”.

The British Lung Foundation Helpline can provide advice to anyone concerned about the ash cloud. Call them on 08458 50 50 20 (10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday).


I'm stranded abroad - how can I get more medication?

If you are running out of medication, see if it is available at a local pharmacy or go to a local hospital or doctor. If you need help finding one, contact your hotel reception, local tourist information or nearest British Embassy. If you are admitted to hospital, contact the British Embassy. Doctors or pharmacists may charge for consultations and prescriptions, so check if there are any costs involved.

If you have a prescription written by a UK doctor or dentist (whether it be NHS or private) it will be valid in the EEA or Switzerland. However, even with a prescription UK citizens can expect to be charged by the dispenser or pharmacist for the medicines and the dispensing service. On return to the UK, you should be able to apply to your local health authority for a refund.

You can also access reduced cost, or sometimes free, necessary state-funded healthcare in the European Economic Area and Switzerland by presenting your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This could include dispensing a prescription issued by a local state healthcare professional. You will still need to pay any costs that a resident of that country would pay.

In all other countries, your UK prescription will not be recognised. Your travel agent or insurance company will be able to advise you on whether you can reclaim any costs involved.

If you don't know the name of the medication you are taking, or what the dosage should be, then it might be helpful to have someone fax or email this over. That way the local doctor or pharmacist will have all the relevant information to make decisions on what drugs to prescribe you.

The Foreign Office website has up-to-date information for travellers about flight disruption. For more information on foreign healthcare systems go to nhs.uk/healthcareabroad.


I'm stranded in the UK - how can I get more medication?

If you are visiting the country and running out of medication you should register as a temporary resident with a general practitioner (GP) if possible. You can find your nearest GP using our service search. Your hotel should also be able to help you find a GP.
Once you are temporarily registered with a GP you can be given a prescription for your medication. You may be charged for this. If you are unable to register with a GP you can see a pharmacist and request additional medications, although you may be refused and asked to register as a temporary resident.

The pharmacist may also charge you for any medications dispensed. It is likely that you will be able to claim back any charges through your travel insurance company, so keep hold of any receipts or bills you are given.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices


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