If you have asthma or any type of respiratory condition, you may have been postponing your trip to Hawaii because of the infamous “vog.” Vog in Hawaii is “volcano fog,” air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted by an erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight.

Vog can cause serious respiratory distress for vulnerable populations (those with chronic respiratory conditions), but can also impact populations that don’t have any health issues whatsoever. In plain terms: Vog can mean a miserable day of coughing, a runny nose, a sore throat and headaches for anyone.

But, there’s good news to report! According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, now there’s a new web portal where anyone who feels vulnerable — resident or visitor — can go for forecasts, advisories, information and advice.

Called the Vog Dashboard website, it includes the latest scientific information about vog as well as some new recommendations for how to protect yourself, the paper reports.

According to the report, the advice on the site follows a three-month study conducted last year on Hawaii island by Claire Horwell, director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network and a researcher at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

“Providing relevant, up-to-date information to a population living with decades of an ongoing volcanic eruption may help people to better cope with the frequent vog conditions,” Horwell told the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

An aerial view of Hawaii shows the impact of vog on the Big Island.

Kilauea has been erupting now for 34 years straight. But when the Halemaumau vent erupted in 2008, the emissions shot up from an average of 2,000 tons a day to 10,000, said Tamar Elias, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told the paper.

While the emissions have backed off since then, the volcano is still belching out between 4,000 and 5,000 tons a day, Elias said.

When the tradewinds are blowing, usually only the areas southwest of Kilauea Volcano’s active vents experience vog as a visible haze or as a sulfurous smell or taste.

But when the trades are missing, as they can be most often during winter months, the entire state can be enveloped in the nasty mixture of sulfur dioxide and fine particulates.

During her study, Horwell held a series of focus groups and surveyed 146 Hawaii island residents. Some of her findings, as reported by the paper:

  • Ninety-six percent of those surveyed noticed the vog, many at least a few times per week. Most notice it as a visible haze, but people nearer the volcano also smell and taste it as well as experience symptoms.
  • Eighty-two percent believed they suffered from the symptoms caused by the vog but also admitted they could be due to other factors, such as mold and pollen.
  • Seventy-eight percent think the vog will affect their long-term health.

So, what can YOU do to minimize the impact of vog in Hawaii? Here are some of the things you can do, according the website hosted by Horwell’s International Volcanic Health Hazard Network:

  • Stay indoors with doors and windows closed.
  • Air conditioning can provide comfort but is not designed to filter out vog. When it’s voggy, set the unit to the “air recirculation” or “closed vent” setting to prevent the unit from pulling outdoor air into the home.
  • A room air cleaner can work to reduce levels of sulfur dioxide and particulates from the air.
Active lava flow from east rift zone of Kilauea by the Puu o o cone on Hawaii.

Traveling to the Big Island can exacerbate respiratory problems, if you’re already predisposed to problems with vog. So, it helps to be careful when planning your volcano excursion. If you’re booking a Volcano Sightseeing and Walking Tour through Hawaii Aloha Travel, talk with your experienced guide ahead of time. He or she can help you create an experience to help you avoid too much vog.

And, of course, consult the new Vog Dashboard website — better to be prepared than to suffer!

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