Pharmacists: Prepare for thunderstorm asthma season

caution warning danger sign thunderstorm

What you need to know to prepare your patients and reduce fatalities this coming Spring season

National Asthma Week (September 1- 7) is the perfect time to remind patients to start taking preventative measures for the higher pollen counts and unexpected weather changes that could trigger asthma attacks, says the National Asthma Council Australia.

In Australia, one in 10 adults and children have asthma. Around four out of five people with asthma also have allergies, such as pollen-related hay fever.

A study published in The Lancet in June this year found people of Indian, Sri Lankan or south-east Asian ethnicity made up 39% of hospital admissions related to Melbourne’s unprecedented 2016 epidemic thunderstorm asthma event.

National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson and pharmacist, Dr Jenny Gowan, said National Asthma Week is a timely reminder for pharmacists and pharmacy staff to refresh their knowledge on evidence-based best practice of asthma and allergic rhinitis.

She urged pharmacists to educate all patients on preventative measures.

“The risk of thunderstorm asthma is highest in adults who are sensitised to rye grass pollen, have allergic rhinitis (with or without known asthma), and are not taking an inhaled corticosteroid asthma preventer. The worst outcomes are seen in people with poorly controlled asthma,” said Dr Gowan.

“People with asthma and/or allergic rhinitis need to proactively manage their symptoms. This includes having an up-to-date asthma action plan in place, prepared by their GP, and taking an inhaled corticosteroid asthma preventer, if prescribed. Everyone with asthma should carry a reliever and know how to use it.

“Within the pharmacy, it is also important to act quickly and decisively when encountering patients with symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing or sneezing, even if they claim to be fine.”

boy using inhaler and spacer

Dr Gowan said that in primary care, prevention of asthma triggered by thunderstorms is based on:

  • Year-round asthma control.
  • Preventive inhaled corticosteroid treatment.
  • Management of seasonal allergic rhinitis, including preventive intranasal corticosteroid treatment.
  • Avoiding exposure to thunderstorms. (Where possible, stay indoors with doors and windows closed until the storm front has passed.)
  • Ensuring appropriate access to relievers during grass pollen season.

See Louis Roller’s Clinical Tips for Asthma for more information.

The grass pollen season in Australia varies depending on where you live.

The National Asthma Council website will share pollen forecasts from around Australia starting 1 October.

Pollen season across south east Australia commences 1 October.

Dr Gowan said that the National Asthma Council has everything pharmacists need to know to counsel patients with asthma and/or allergic rhinitis on preventing thunderstorm asthma.

The National Asthma Council Australia has a range of resources aimed at increasing healthcare professionals’ understanding of the phenomena of thunderstorm asthma and applying evidence-based best practice of asthma and allergic rhinitis to general practice.

All the resources are available at the National Asthma Council Australia website.

See this Information Paper on Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma for more information.

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