Spring marks the start of thunderstorm asthma season (1 September – 31 December) and doctors at the Alfred Hospital are urging people to start taking preventative measures, even if they have not suffered from asthma before.
A/Prof Mark Hew, Head of Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology at The Alfred Hospital provided expert assistance to the National Asthma Council to develop Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Guidelines.
The guidelines were released in response to last year's catastrophic Thunderstorm Asthma event, which saw nine lives lost and 8500 people admitted to emergency departments across the state In Victoria.
“No one should lose their life to Thunderstorm Asthma. Pre-existing hay fever is the commonest risk factor, and patients with known background asthma are at highest risk. The guidelines will assist doctors, nurses, and pharmacists educate these patients on prevention techniques, especially coming up to high pollen season,” A/Prof Hew said.
Epidemic thunderstorm asthma is where a large number of people develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time, triggered by unusual thunderstorm conditions with high levels of concentrated pollen. The particles present during the storm are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can trigger life-threatening asthma symptoms.
People who suffer from hay fever (with or without known asthma), hypersensitivity to ryegrass pollen and poorly controlled asthma are at a heightened risk of attack during storms in the warmer months.
Prevention for people presenting at risk symptoms is as simple as a trip to the GP and includes:
- Good asthma control – whether you have been diagnosed with asthma, or have ever displayed asthma symptoms, talk to your doctor about regular treatment. Taking an asthma preventer properly and regularly is key to preventing asthma, including thunderstorm asthma. While you’re there get your GP to check your inhaler technique.
- Regular hay fever treatment – keeping on top on your allergies is important. Administering a corticosteroid nasal spray regularly throughout spring and early summer can prevent thunderstorm asthma. See your pharmacist or doctor for a hay fever treatment plan and for a specific treatment plan for children.
- Avoidance – people at risk should avoid being outside during a thunderstorm– especially the wind gusts that come before the storm. When inside or in a car, ensure your doors and windows are closed and the air conditioning is off or set to recirculate mode. These measures may not completely prevent exposure, so any symptoms should be managed immediately.
- Keep up to date - keeping up with pollen counts and predicted storms is something that can be implemented immediately. Download the following apps or visit the websites regularly to ensure you are well prepared ahead of a storm.
Thunderstorm warnings are available through the Bureau of Meteorology app BOM Weather or visit the website.
Pollen counts and forecasts for some major cities are available from AusPollen. Counts begin in spring (1 September for Sydney, 1 October for Melbourne and Canberra, and 1 November for Brisbane).
The Bureau of Meteorology is developing an epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecast, which will be available from VicEmergency.
You can view the Thunderstorm Asthma guidelines here.