thunderstorm asthma

It’s unlikely that when a thunderstorm occurs the first thing you’re trying to find is your asthma inhaler, but don’t be fooled. Thunderstorms wreaking havoc on people’s ability to breathe is a serious concern in many parts of Australia.

With 1 in 9 Australians being affected by asthma, it’s important to be aware of these rare events of nature and how they can upset the lungs.

What is Thunderstorm Asthma?

The bizarre occurrence that is thunderstorm asthma happens when a high pollen count in the air is combined with humidity and a northerly wind.

After the weather is windy, dry grass pollens are more likely to rise into clouds.

Then because of the moisture, these pollens explode and break up into fragments that are quickly spread through the air via strong storm winds.

These fragments soon become a huge concern for the lungs.

thunderstorm asthma queensland

Image sourced from: Asthma Australia

How do these storms trigger Asthma?

Usually grass pollens are too large to enter the lungs – however, when these unique thunderstorms occur, the tiny pollen fragments can be inhaled, causing irritation in the lungs.

In many cases of thunderstorm asthma these pollens cause the airways to swell and tighten, making it very difficult to breathe.

What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

  • Coughing or a continuing cough
  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Tightness of the chest

People who are experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical advice immediately and call triple zero.

Who does thunderstorm asthma effect?

Anyone can suffer from thunderstorm asthma, even if they’ve never presented asthmatic symptoms, but asthma and hay fever suffers (allergic rhinitis) and those who are allergic to grass pollen, are more likely to be at risk.

Even people who’ve presented with asthmatic symptoms in the past but haven’t sough prevention or medication are likely to be affected.

After a spread of thunderstorm asthma in New South Wales in 1997, researchers found 95 per cent of sufferers had a history of hay fever or tested positive for grass pollen allergies.

Where is thunderstorm asthma likely to occur?

Queensland is less likely to experience thunderstorm asthma than other states, because of consistently high humidity. Yet, there is still a possibility that thunderstorm asthma outbreaks might occur – particularly in drier areas like the Darling Downs.

Queenslanders should be wary during the stormy season (November to April) and watch out for thunderstorms that occur quite rapidly after periods of dry weather.

Victoria and Melbourne are hot-spots for these kind of thunderstorms, as the weather changes quickly and dramatically. It is important to remain vigilant when visiting these areas. Last year in Melbourne, 10 people died as a result of the condition.

Nine news interviewing Asthma Australia’s CEO on thunderstorm related asthma attacks.

How do I avoid being affected?  

There are a few ways to prepare for a storm during pollen season, these include:

  • Being aware of days with HIGH or EXTREME pollen counts. To learn what the pollen count is near you see AusPollen
  • Adding the possibility of thunderstorm asthma into your asthma plan and discussing it with your doctor.
  • Using a preventer medication to help limit the possibility of an asthma attack.
  • If you suffer from hay fever, use medications like anti-histamines and nasal corticosteroid sprays to manage your symptoms ahead of and during the storm.

Asthma symptoms can quickly become severe or life-threatening, so please call Triple Zero (000) if you think you’re having an asthma attack.

This article was written by Home Doctor Brisbane Team.