Let's talk about Thunderstorm Asthma

Nov. 8, 2021

Grass pollen season brings the chance of epidemic thunderstorm asthma.

Grass pollen season (early October – late January) brings an increased risk of asthma and hay fever. It also brings the chance of epidemic thunderstorm asthma. For people with asthma or hay fever, especially those who experience wheezing or coughing with their hay fever, thunderstorm asthma can be sudden, serious and even life threatening.

The following list presents a range of resources available for us to learn more about epidemic thunderstorm asthma, including what are the risks to your health and how can you prepare for these events:

  1. What is epidemic thunderstorm asthma?
  2. What are the risks to your health?
  3. How can I prepare?

While Canberra has not experienced an identified epidemic thunderstorm asthma event, there have been significant and sudden increases in presentations to the emergency department at Canberra hospitals in the past that appear to be related to high levels of grass pollen at times when thunderstorms have been in the area.

This years grass pollen season in Canberra is one of the most severe on record, with records of highest grass pollen counts (492 grains/m3 on 29th October, 2021) and the most number of EXTREME grass pollen days (8 days and still counting) spanning 10 years of monitoring. Thunderstorms have also been a feature of this season, with several thunderstorm events occurring along with protracted and high levels of precipitation. So far we haven't seen any thunderstorm asthma warnings being issued by the ACT Health Directorate (8 days had thunderstorm asthma warnings issued in 2020), due to low coincidence of high grass pollen and thunderstorms, but the possibility of warnings being issued in the next few weeks remains if current conditions persist.

If you want to learn more about thunderstorm asthma go ahead and take a look at this great animation put together by the team at Healthily with support from the National Asthma Council of Australia

If you have asthma or hay fever, or experience asthma or hay fever symptoms, talk to your doctor and make sure you have an up to date asthma action plan or hay fever treatment plan and know the 4 steps of asthma first aid.

Thanks to @MelbournePollen for resource and research collaboration.

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