Hundreds of people were rushed to healthcare facilities in Melbourne in the wake of recent thunderstorm asthma attacks induced by thunderstorm activity and elevated pollen levels (hay fever). It has been observed that thunderstorm asthma places considerable strain on healthcare systems. On November 21, 2016, a thunderstorm asthma struck Melbourne, resulting in the deaths of 10 people and hundreds of people seeking urgent care for breathing difficulties. Aiding people promptly proved challenging for ambulance services and hospital emergencies due to the abrupt surge in acute respiratory complications.
In response to the harrowing event, the Australian Department of Health implemented a thorough Thunderstorm Asthma Programme. The objective was to mitigate the impact of future epidemic thunderstorm asthma events on both the community and the Victorian health system. The Thunderstorm Asthma Programme underwent significant transformations in Victoria, which encompassed:
- Establishing a Victorian forecasting algorithm for thunderstorm asthma
- Increasing community awareness and education about thunderstorm asthma
- Updating public communications and warnings in Victoria
- Improving expert clinical management guidelines related to asthma
- Updating the State Health Emergency Response Plan
Hay Fever-Related Asthma
Further investigation on thunderstorm asthma was conducted in order to uncover factors that lead to hay fever-related asthma attacks. Rain and gusty winds were identified as the two culprits by Professor Ed Newbigin of the University of Melbourne’s plant biology department. Rain causes pollen to burst into particles small enough to infiltrate the lungs and trigger asthma attacks. While the wind stirs up the small pollen particles, they become airborne and easily inhaled.
Consequently, people with ryegrass sensitivity or seasonal hay fever are particularly vulnerable to having their first episode of acute asthma symptoms during thunderstorm asthma. It should be emphasised that hay fever alone does not lead to asthma unless a thunderstorm occurs, usually between October 1 and December 31.
5 Ways to Avoid an Asthma Attack During Thunderstorm Asthma
1. Before springtime begins, ask a doctor to create an asthma action plan for you or annually review your existing plan.
2. Make sure to adhere to your doctor’s recommendations and take your asthma medication, such as preventers.
3. Ensure that you have your reliever inhaler readily available in the event of an asthma exacerbation during the springtime.
4. Keep abreast of pollen counts and thunderstorm asthma forecasts.
5. Take shelter inside a car or building with closed windows and recirculating air conditioning moments before and during a thunderstorm.
A doctor may prescribe you with a preventor and/or reliever inhaler, or a combination of the two, to assist you with your respiratory health. Preventers function by gradually reducing mucus and inflammation in the airways, thereby reducing susceptibility to triggers. They should be used on a daily basis. Relievers exert rapid action by inducing relaxation in the excessively constricted muscles that surround the airways, specifically during aggravated asthma symptoms. They should be used during an asthma attack.
5 Signs of Asthma
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in your chest
- Wheezing when breathing
- Persistent cough
Here at MedicFirst, we encourage all children and adults with asthma or seasonal hay fever to visit a doctor to complete an asthma action plan. Our patients can also rest assured knowing MedicFirst has all the means necessary to treat them on-site during an asthma attack.
If you struggle with seasonal hayfever, asthma or are concerned that you maybe have undiagnosed asthma, please contact us or book online.
Thunderstorm asthma 2023, health.vic.gov.au, <https://www.health.vic.gov.au/your-health-report-of-the-chief-health-officer-victoria-2018/environmental-health/thunderstorm>.
- The November 2016 Victorian epidemic thunderstorm asthma event: an assessment of the health impacts: The Chief Health Officer’s Report, 27 April 2017 2021, <https://www.health.vic.gov.au/publications/the-november-2016-victorian-epidemic-thunderstorm-asthma-event-an-assessment-of-the>.
- Newbigin, E, Vicendese, D, Lampugnani, ER & Erbas, B 2023, The AusPollen partnership project: Allergenic airborne grass pollen seasonality and magnitude across temperate, findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au, <https://findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/scholarlywork/1688060-the-auspollen-partnership-project–allergenic-airborne-grass-pollen-seasonality-and-magnitude-across-temperate-and-subtropical-eastern-australia–2016-2020>.