What is thunderstorm asthma?
During grass pollen season people may notice an increase in asthma and hay fever. Grass pollen season (October through 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.
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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 and get it checked out.
- 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 symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in your chest or coughing, it is important to make sure you don’t also have asthma. Speak to your GP today about whether you might also have asthma, and check if you should have 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 conditioning on, turn it onto recirculate.
If you develop asthma symptoms, follow your asthma action plan, or if you don’t have one yet, follow the four steps of asthma first aid.
Download the Vic Emergency 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 for updates and information.
Learn asthma first aid
It's important for everyone in the community to know the four steps of asthma first aid so they know what to do if they or someone is having an asthma attack.
Sit the person upright.
Give four separate puffs of blue/grey reliever puffer:
– Shake the puffer
– Put one puff into the spacer
– Take four breaths from the spacer
Repeat until 4 puffs have been taken. 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).
Wait 4 minutes. If there is no improvement, give four more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever, as with Step 2.
OR give 1 more dose of Bricanyl or Symbicort inhaler.
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, if their asthma suddenly becomes worse, or if the person is having an asthma attack and there’s no blue or grey reliever available.