Pollen season asthma threat

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Pharmacists are being urged to help raise awareness of thunderstorm asthma before hayfever season strikes

The National Asthma Council has launched a suite of resources on thunderstorm asthma, which it says is aimed at helping pharmacists prepare for the upcoming grass pollen season.

National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson and pharmacist, Dr Jenny Gowan, says the thunderstorm event last year was a timely reminder for pharmacists and pharmacy staff to refresh their knowledge on evidence-based best practice of asthma and allergic rhinitis.

“The risk of thunderstorm asthma is highest in adults who are sensitised to ryegrass pollen, have allergic rhinitis (with or without known asthma), and are not taking an inhaled corticosteroid asthma preventer,” she says.

“The worst outcomes are seen in people with poorly controlled asthma.

“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.”

Dr Gowan is urging pharmacists to ensure their patients are prepared by discussing the regular use preventative medications, if appropriate, and recommending an up-to-date asthma action plan, written by their GP, before the start of pollen season across south east Australia on October 1.

Written for pharmacists, GPs, and practice nurses, the new resources include:

  • an information paper on the causes, prevention and treatment of thunderstorm asthma;
  • an updated information paper on managing allergic rhinitis in people with asthma; and
  • a handy flowchart for pharmacists to identify and advise at-risk patients.

In addition, the National Asthma Council is offering free workshops, a webinar series and online learning modules to upskill healthcare professionals and prepare their patients and practices for thunderstorm asthma season.

Supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and guided by an expert working group, the thunderstorm asthma information paper includes learnings from last year’s thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne and calls for immediate and appropriate treatment for patients with asthma and/or allergic rhinitis.

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

  1. Year-round asthma control, including regular inhaled corticosteroid-containing preventers where indicated (applies to most adults with asthma);
  2. Preventative treatment for people who are allergic to grass pollens but are not already taking regular medication: intranasal corticosteroids for people with allergic rhinitis and inhaled corticosteroids for people with asthma, ideally starting 6 weeks before exposure to springtime highpollen concentrations and thunderstorms, and continuing throughout the grass pollen season (1 September–31 December); and
  3. Advice for at-risk patients to avoid being outdoors just before and during thunderstorms in spring and early summer – especially during cold wind gusts that precede the rain front.

The thunderstorm asthma information paper was developed by an expert working group, including Dr Gowan.

The webinar series was developed in partnership with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association, and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, whereas the online learning modules were a collaboration with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Development of the updated information paper on Managing allergic rhinitis in people with asthma was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Seqirus. The National Asthma Council Australia retained editorial control over all resources.

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

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