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Thunder is one of the most foreboding sounds you’re likely to hear in everyday life. It indicates that a storm is approaching, and that in most cases lightning has already struck somewhere nearby. However, is it possible to get sick just from being in a thunderstorm? Yes! According to recent studies examining the rare condition known as “thunderstorm asthma“, thunderstorms can actually cause asthma attacks – even in people not diagnosed with asthma!
“On November 21, 2016, Melbourne witnessed the greatest thunderstorm asthma outbreak in history, with thousands of individuals rapidly experiencing breathing difficulties. Because of this, it’s critical for those who suffer from hay fever or asthma to understand thunderstorm asthma and what they’ll do to safeguard themselves through grass pollen seasons,” says health and wellness consultant Layla Colling of Health Hero.
Is this to say people with respiratory problems should hold their breath whenever they hear the sound of thunder? Not exactly. Although thunderstorm asthma can be dangerous and even fatal, it’s an unusually rare condition. Knowledge of how to provide first aid to someone suffering from asthma is a good thing to have.
What Is Thunderstorm Asthma?
Thunderstorm asthma is a condition caused by fine grass pollen in the air. It’s triggered by a specific combination of circumstances, of which thunderstorms are just one part.
At certain times of the year, when grass pollen is at just the right stage of development, a thunderstorm can cause the grass-pollen grains to burst and be scattered into the air. After absorbing water, the pollen grains enlarge and break open. This sudden mass discharge of fine pollen particles can cause allergic reactions and often trigger asthmatic attacks.
People tend to suffer thunderstorm asthma during windy periods just before rain begins. Typically, it takes place in the spring and summer months. Unusually, thunderstorm asthma can strike anybody – including those with no history of the condition.
Who Is Susceptible To Thunderstorm Asthma?
Generally, asthma triggered by thunderstorms may affect individuals of any age. However, adults allergic to grass pollen (especially rye grass pollen) or who suffer from seasonal hay fever are most at risk for thunderstorm asthma.
What Are The Symptoms Of Thunderstorm Asthma?
If you have thunderstorm asthma, you might suffer from one or more of these symptoms during a thunderstorm:
- Breathing Difficulties
- Chest Constriction
- A Constant Cough
- Wheezing as you Breathe
Asthma caused by thunderstorms can swiftly worsen its symptoms. If you have difficulty breathing, dial 000 for an emergency assistance. People with no prior history of respiratory issues can – and have – died due to thunderstorm asthma.
What Must I Do If I Experience Asthma From Thunderstorms?
Follow these guidelines if you suffer from thunderstorm asthma.
- If the symptoms are mild, start asthma first aid with your asthma relief inhaler such as Ventolin (if you have one). If you have no inhaler, try to stay calm and ask or call for help. Asthma sufferers and medical personnel
- If you are struggling to breathe properly, dial 000 (triple zero) and request an ambulance – or get someone else to do it, if you can. Use any prescribed anti-hay fever medicine, such as corticosteroid or antihistamine-containing nasal sprays.
- When you are with somebody having asthma symptoms, sit the individual upright and start first aid – using an asthma inhaler if you have access to one. As much as possible, stay calm and relaxed and encourage the person to stay calm too.
Can I Avoid Thunderstorm Asthma?
If you have hay fever or asthma, you can hopefully avoid or minimise the impact of thunderstorm asthma by managing these conditions well, and making good plans for emergencies. Start by consulting your doctor to arrange a treatment plan for asthma or hay fever. Your treatment plan should include information on the preventative drugs you may use to control your condition and what to do in case of an asthma emergency. Be sure to review this plan periodically to ensure that the medication and care you’re receiving are still appropriate.
In some cases, your doctor may advise seeing an allergy specialist. They may suggest that you get allergy tests to find out if you are hypersensitive to the pollen from ryegrass. They can also recommend immunotherapy, a specialised kind of treatment for ryegrass allergies.
Nevertheless, those susceptible to thunderstorm asthma should always have an inhaler or OPEP device at hand throughout the pollen season. It may also be advised to take an asthma preventer regularly to lessen the likelihood of an asthma attack.
How Can I Stay Safe from Thunderstorm Asthma Triggers?
If you’re prone to allergies, outdoors is not
a good place to be during a thunderstorm!
You can use the following resources to check weather predictions and pollen counts:
- The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website or the BOM Weather app
- The Australian Pollen Allergen Partnership, which publishes pollen counts in certain cities
- The AirRater app, which connects your experiences to weather conditions, especially pollen counts, and may alert you of triggers,
On days in the warmer months when the pollen count is high and a thunderstorm is coming, it is wise to:
- Stay indoors, especially when it’s windy
- Close your doors and windows before it rains
- Make sure you have an asthma reliever on hand
Thunderstorm Asthma Attack? – First Aid First: A Helping Hand Becomes A Saving Hand
Thunderstorm asthma attacks are occasional episodes that occur when an allergen-sensitive person is exposed to allergenic substances such as pollen during a thunderstorm.
In a severe incident, the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks can strain medical resources. In certain rare cases, a person with thunderstorm asthma could die without medical assistance.
In such a situation, knowledge of how to provide first aid can spell the difference between life and death. First Aid training can teach you how to identify someone suffering an asthma attack, what medication can help, and how to administer it. This leaves you better prepared for this unexpected, including serious public health dangers.
Join the first aid squad! Contact us to enrol for a nationally accredited local First Aid Course developed and taught by industry professionals. Your timely action could save a life.