Better Health Channel

Thunderstorm asthma

What is thunderstorm asthma?

During grass pollen season people may notice an increase in asthma and hay fever. Grass pollen season (October through to December) also brings the chance of thunderstorm asthma.

Thunderstorm asthma is thought to be triggered by a unique combination of high amounts of grass pollen in the air and a certain type of thunderstorm. For people who have asthma or hay fever this can trigger severe asthma symptoms.

When a large number of people develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time, related to high grass pollen and a certain type of thunderstorm, it is known as epidemic thunderstorm asthma. To learn more, visit the epidemic thunderstorm asthma fact sheet page.

The symptoms of asthma, hay fever and COVID-19 can be similar, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. If you are experiencing symptoms different to your usual asthma and hay fever symptoms, they have restarted after a period of absence or if you are unsure – get tested for COVID-19 and stay home until you get your results.

For up to date information on epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk visit the Vic Emergency thunderstorm asthma page or download the VicEmergency app from Google Play or the App Store and set up a 'watch zone'.

To view thunderstorm asthma resources, including posters, brochures and fact sheets in other languages, visit the Thunderstorm asthma – multicultural resources page.

Thunderstorm asthma overview

Learn about thunderstorm asthma and how it affects people with asthma and hay fever.

View the Thunderstorm asthma overview (video) page for videos in your language. Translated subtitles are available for this video.

Who is at risk?

Thunderstorm asthma can affect those with asthma or hay fever – especially people who experience wheezing or coughing with their hay fever.   

Even if you don't think you have asthma or hay fever, don't ignore symptoms like wheezing or shortness of breath – check with your GP.

Learn more about asthma and hay fever.   

Protect yourself this pollen season

Here are some things you can do to prepare for pollen season:

  • If you have asthma – your GP can help you develop or update your asthma action plan to manage your asthma.
  • If you've ever had asthma – talk to your GP about what you can do to help protect yourself from the risk of thunderstorm asthma this pollen season. Remember, taking an asthma preventer properly and regularly is key to preventing asthma, including thunderstorm asthma.
  • If you experience wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or a persistent cough then you may have asthma. It’s important you talk to your GP about whether you have asthma and the best way to reduce and prevent symptoms. 
  • If you have hay fever – see your pharmacist or GP for a hay fever treatment plan.
  • If you have hay fever, and especially if you experience any of the asthma symptoms listed above, it is important to speak to your GP about whether you might also have asthma, and if you need an asthma reliever puffer – which is available from a pharmacy without a prescription.

And finally, where possible avoid being outside during thunderstorms from October through December – especially in the wind gusts that come before the storm. Go inside and close your doors and windows. If you have your air conditioner on, turn it to recirculate.

If you develop asthma symptoms, follow your asthma action plan, or if you don’t have one yet, follow the 4 steps of asthma first aid.

Download the Vic Emergency app (App Store or Google Play) and set up a 'watch zone' for your location to receive advice and warnings about potential epidemic thunderstorm asthma events during the grass pollen season. You can also visit the Vic Emergency thunderstorm asthma webpage for updates and information.

Read more about epidemic thunderstorm asthma.

Thunderstorm asthma resources

Learn asthma first aid

It's important for everyone in the community to know the 4 steps of asthma first aid so they know what to do if they or someone is having an asthma attack.

Step 1: Sit the person upright

  • Be calm and reassuring.
  • Do not leave them alone.

Step 2: Give 4 separate puffs of blue/grey reliever puffer

  • Shake the puffer.
  • Put 1 puff into the spacer.
  • Take 4 breaths from the spacer. Repeat until 4 puffs have been taken. (If you don’t have a spacer, simply inhale 4 puffs directly by mouth).

Remember: Shake, 1 puff, 4 breaths OR give 2 separate doses of a Bricanyl inhaler (age 6 and over) or a Symbicort inhaler (over 12).

Step 3: Wait 4 minutes

Wait 4 minutes. If there is no improvement, give 4 more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever, as with Step 2 OR give 1 more dose of Bricanyl or Symbicort inhaler.

Step 4: If there is still no improvement dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance

Keep giving the person 4 separate puffs every 4 minutes until emergency assistance arrives.

Call triple zero (000) immediately if:

  • the person is not breathing
  • their asthma suddenly becomes worse
  • the person is having an asthma attack and there’s no blue or grey reliever available
  • you are not sure if it is asthma.

Give feedback about this page

Reviewed on: 01-09-2021