Thunderstorm asthma is asthma that is triggered by a particular type of thunderstorm when there is high amounts of grass pollen in the air (typically between October and end December). It can result in people wheezing, feeling short of breath, and tight in the chest with coughing. This can be sudden, serious, and even life threatening.
You are at risk of thunderstorm asthma if you:
- have asthma (or have had asthma in the past)
- have hay fever (allergy affecting the nose) during Spring.
If you feel short of breath, tight in the chest, wheeze or cough during pollen season – you might have undiagnosed asthma.
View other thunderstorm asthma videos in the series.
On 21 November 2016, Melbourne experienced the largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in the world. Although there have been other epidemic thunderstorm asthma events previously reported in Melbourne, none have been close to the size and severity of the November 2016 event.
This story is about Uday Dhumatkar. Uday experienced a severe and life-changing asthma attack in November 2010 and has since improved his asthma and allergy management to prevent it from ever happening again.
Uday migrated to Australia from India in the 1980s. He has had asthma for a long time, but his condition worsened when he moved to Melbourne.
In November 2010, Uday mowed the lawn in the afternoon and as the evening went on, he began to feel tight in the chest and dizzy. His condition worsened as the night went on. Around midnight he woke feeling quite unwell. He tried taking his reliever medication – using the four steps of asthma first aid – and when he didn't improve, his wife called an ambulance. He was treated and taken to hospital, and returned home after an hour or so.
Unfortunately, Uday’s condition again worsened. At around 5am, Uday’s wife called an ambulance and he was rushed to hospital – something Uday himself does not remember.
“I had a very bad breathing difficulty – my chest was like a stone. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t express myself,” Uday said.
“As my wife explained to me, I was black and blue, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t say anything.”
“I woke up after 36 hours. They had put me into an induced coma and I realised that I had lost one day.”
Uday was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for 12 days. He recovered slowly, and expresses the experience as feeling “like a second birth”.
Uday didn't know he was allergic to grass, which he found out after this serious episode. He now checks the pollen count every day. He has an asthma action plan and keeps his asthma preventer medication by his toothbrush, so he remembers to take it twice a day.
“I always keep myself ready, and always carry [reliever medication] in my pocket so if I go out – if there is an emergency, or I don’t feel well – I use the [reliever] and then come back home.”
On 21 November 2016, when Melbourne experienced the largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in the world, Uday had checked the pollen count and taken actions to protect himself: “I used my medications in the morning and the evening – so I was normal on that day.”
Uday is now prepared, and he has some great advice for people with asthma and hay fever: “Always be prepared,” he says. “If you suffer from hay fever or asthma, always have the plan ready and always be alert. So that when you recognise that you are going to get asthma or some breathing problems – then you immediately implement your asthma plan.”
With his asthma under control, Uday says he can do anything he wants: “I travel, I go to various places, and of course I have four grandkids – I play with them, I take them away. So asthma is no hindrance to my enjoyment and fulfilment of my life.”
I was born in India, and I migrated here 35 years ago.
In 2010, November 2010, in the evening I felt a little bit sick like I couldn’t breathe properly, I had a very tight chest, at 5 o’clock in the morning I fainted and I became black and blue and I couldn’t breathe so my wife panicked and she called the ambulance.
And then I woke up after 36 hours. And they had put me into an induced coma and I realised that I had lost one day. I was there for 12 days.
I never knew that I had allergy to grass – which I found out after this episode.
November 2016, I was not aware that it was a thunderstorm asthma day. I used my medications in the morning and the evening. So I was normal on that day.
I’m very confident that I’m safe with an asthma plan. With my asthma under control I can do anything I want – I travel, I go to various places, and of course I have four grandkids – I play with them, I take them away. So asthma is no hindrance to my enjoyment and fulfilment of my life.