In November 2016 a thunderstorm asthma event hit Melbourne, but it was not the first time it had happened. Thunderstorm asthma was first described in Melbourne in 1987, and the city experienced an epidemic 6 years ago, on 25 November 2010. It has also affected other parts of our country, particularly in south-eastern Australia.
What is thunderstorm asthma?
Thunderstorm asthma is a potent mix of pollens, weather conditions and rain that can trigger severe asthma symptoms.
How can weather changes trigger asthma attacks?
When rain droplets crash into airborne pollen, the pollen grains are broken into tiny particles. These particles are so small that they get right into the lower airways of your lung — further and deeper than the larger pollen grains. So this can trigger a worse asthma response.
What are the symptoms of Thunderstorm asthma?
The symptoms of Thunderstorm asthma are the same as those for an acute asthma attack. People most likely experience:
- wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath
- waking up at night with these symptoms
- the need to use an asthma reliever within three hours of a thunderstorm.
As thunderstorms burst pollen particles, asthma symptoms have the potential to worsen very quickly. This can mean your asthma inhaler is not as effective as usual, and you have severe shortness of breath, can’t speak comfortably or your lips appear blue.
Who is at risk of thunderstorm asthma?
People with asthma and hayfever are at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma.
Some people who get thunderstorm asthma may have never had asthma before. They might have had severe hay fever, and many are allergic to ryegrass. It is assumed that the tiny particles being inhaled straight into the lung after the weather change triggers these attacks.
Accroding to the National Asthma Council Australia, those with poorly controlled pre-existing asthma are also at increased risk. If you haven’t had an asthma diagnosis, and are experiencing regular or worsening symptoms, the National ASthma Council advises booking in to have a review with your doctor.
Can you prevent thunderstorm asthma?
If you’ve experienced thunderstorm asthma before, or think you’re at risk, there are some things you can do to prevent an attack. They include:
- Follow the weather forecast for thunderstorms, and thunderstorm asthma warnings. Victorians can also set up notifications through the Vic emergency app.
- Stay inside during thunderstorms from October through December. Close your doors and windows, and switch your air-conditioner on to recirculate.
- Keep reliever and hayfever medication with you, and know how to use them.
- Know asthma first aid.
If you have difficulty breathing, whether you have asthma or not, call 000 immediately and follow your Asthma First Aid plan.
Find out why it’s important to have an asthma action plan