[Effects of volcanic eruptions on human health in Iceland. Review]

Laeknabladid. 2016;102(10):433-441. doi: 10.17992/lbl.2016.10.101.
[Article in Icelandic]


Volcanic eruptions are common in Iceland and have caused health problems ever since the settlement of Iceland. Here we describe volcanic activity and the effects of volcanic gases and ash on human health in Iceland. Volcanic gases expelled during eruptions can be highly toxic for humans if their concentrations are high, irritating the mucus membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract at lower concentrations. They can also be very irritating to the skin. Volcanic ash is also irritating for the mucus membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. The smalles particles of volcanic ash can reach the alveoli of the lungs. Described are four examples of volcanic eruptions that have affected the health of Icelanders. The eruption of Laki volcanic fissure in 1783-1784 is the volcanic eruption that has caused the highest mortality and had the greatest effects on the well-being of Icelanders. Despite multiple volcanic eruptions during the last decades in Iceland mortality has been low and effects on human health have been limited, although studies on longterm effects are lacking. Studies on the effects of the Eyjafjallajökul eruption in 2010 on human health showed increased physical and mental symptoms, especially in those having respiratory disorders. The Directorate of Health in Iceland and other services have responded promptly to recurrent volcanic eruptions over the last few years and given detailed instructions on how to minimize the effects on the public health. Key words: volcanic eruptions, Iceland, volcanic ash, volcanic gases, health effects, mortality. Correspondence: Gunnar Guðmundsson, ggudmund@landspitali.is.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Eye Diseases / etiology*
  • Eye Diseases / mortality
  • Health Status*
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Iceland
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / mortality
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Diseases / etiology*
  • Skin Diseases / mortality
  • Time Factors
  • Volcanic Eruptions / adverse effects*
  • Volcanic Eruptions / history


  • Particulate Matter