Thunderstorm asthma: be prepared


caution warning danger sign thunderstorm

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services has launched its 2019 campaign to educate the public about thunderstorm asthma, including where to seek help

Following the disastrous 2016 thunderstorm asthma event in Victoria – in which 10 people lost their lives – awareness has been growing amongst health professionals and the public about the phenomenon’s potential for significant harm.

During the 2016 event, several pharmacies found themselves “inundated” by people experiencing an asthma attack, some for the first time.

At an inquest into the event in 2018, Professor Jo Douglass, an allergy specialist from the University of Melbourne, was asked what knowledge health professionals such as doctors and pharmacists had about thunderstorm asthma beforehand, and said that she did not think they were very aware.

Since then, stakeholders have been raising awareness amongst Australians and health professionals, and Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton has now told the AJP that DHHS wants everyone with asthma or hayfever to be as prepared as possible for the grass pollen season.

“Anyone at risk should always carry their medication with them and strictly follow their asthma or hay fever treatment plan,” he said.

“People with asthma or hayfever are more at risk of thunderstorm asthma, especially those with undiagnosed asthma. For many affected by thunderstorm asthma, it was their first asthma attack.

“It is important for those with asthma or hay fever to see their doctor or pharmacist to review their current medication, update their treatment plans and learn asthma first aid.”

Even people who do not believe they have asthma or hayfever should be encouraged not to ignore symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath, he said, as this may indicate asthma. People with these symptoms should be encouraged to see their GP.

“Recognising the signs and good asthma and allergy management all year round is the best way to prevent flare-ups, and to protect yourself from thunderstorm asthma,” he said.

Thunderstorm asthma is asthma that is triggered by a particular type of thunderstorm when there are high amounts of grass pollen in the air. While these events are uncommon, when they occur, they typically occur between October and the end of December.

It can result in people wheezing, feeling short of breath, feeling tight in the chest, or experiencing persistent coughing. It can be sudden, serious and even life threatening.

Epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecasts are available on the VicEmergency app and website from October 1 at: http://emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#thunderstorm-asthma-forecast

More information for consumers is available via the Better Health Channel at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/thunderstorm-asthma and for health professionals here.

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