What you should know about the ‘thunderstorm asthma’

  More than 2,000 people suffered breathing problems in Melbourne when a severe storm caused the “thunderstorm asthma”. People have been
If you have not heard of thunderstorm asthma, you should read this article.


More than 2,000 people suffered breathing problems in Melbourne when a severe storm caused the “thunderstorm asthma”. People have been urged to take the matter seriously and a fourth death has been attributed to the “thunderstorm asthma”. Hospitals were swamped with emergency patients, while firefighters and police were called on to help paramedics respond to thousands of calls after the conditions caused breathing problems for Victorians.

Jill Hennessy, the Health Minister, said it was like “a bomb going off”, with all ambulances, police, fire and non-emergency transport being used to deal with the crisis.

“Our health system was stretched to the limit,” she told 774 ABC Melbourne.

“We know that we’ve got some people in intensive care units as well.

“At one point we had 140 code one cases, while dealing with other patients, all of them were cardiac arrests or severe respiratory conditions.”

What is thunderstorm asthma?

Thunderstorms can trigger respiratory problems by causing particles of pollen that are normally too big to enter the airways to explode.

According to Dr Simon Judkins, from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine,”Thunderstorm asthma is triggered when there is a sudden change in weather conditions

“The movement from a hot a windy day where there is an increased pollen load in the air to an incoming storm front which adds a lot of moisture to the air will see pollens absorb the moisture, and burst.”

“This releases thousands of tiny allergen particles which are then inhaled by people and can trigger asthma attacks.” 

Who is vulnerable?

People with asthma and other allergy syndromes will be affected – but children and the elderly are very vulnerable, said Dr Judkins.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology said around one in four people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) also have asthma. Some people with severe allergic rhinitis (hay fever) think that their allergic rhinitis turns into asthma or will make them tight in the chest or wheeze. This is incorrect as pollen can trigger asthma as well as allergic rhinitis symptoms.

How can you tell if you have it?

Sufferers can feel symptoms such as shortness of breath, a cough, a wheeze, and chest tightness because inhaling the pollen fragments can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs resulting in the sudden onset of symptoms.

“Think of how you feel when you try to breath in and out through a straw. It’s very hard work, very tiring .., and distressing,” said Dr Judkins.

What should you do if you have it?

You must get help immediately. While some sufferers will have asthma medications with them and will recognise the symptoms and start implementing their asthma plan, this may be a first-time experience for many people. Ventolin spray is the first-line therapy, followed by steroid medication.

Your GP has these medications but, if it is outside their working hours, you may need to head to your nearest emergency department. 

Have you heard of “thunderstorm asthma” before? Do you anyone who would be vulnerable to this?

  1. Jennifer  

    I can’t believe that we get warned about everything from Locust plagues to Raging Bush Fires & Floods, but something that can affect so many people and even cause death, gets NO forward warning. We don’t want to become a Nanny State (or is it already too late!) But in a case like this I do think that a little forewarning would have been helpful to a lot of people!

    • Jen  

      Jennifer thunderstorm asthma is a very rare event, there had been warning of a very high pollen count prior to the event. We have just not experience anything on this scale before. There had certainly been plenty of discussion & warning for hay fever sufferers, & it seems that many of the asthma sufferers last Monday had never had an asthma attack before. It was a rare occurance, but I am sure they will be including watching more closely in the future now that this tragic event has happened. Also people need to try & get a sufferer to a doctor or hospital ASAP, in their car rather than wait for an ambulance as time is critical, & ambulance services were under the pump that night .. no one can be blamed for provision of lack of service, this was far from a normal or regular event, it was a freak of nature. Here is a discussion of pollen count from early this month, but thunderstorm asthma was not on their radar at the time, but I’m sure there will be a lot more research happening in this area. As we know the deaths from last Monday were 20 – 30 year olds, not the normal children & elderly who are usually the most susceptible http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-07/melbourne-sneeze-itches-through-worst-hayfever-season-in-years/8001910

      • Jen  

        & there was even a warning of high pollen counts for this Spring, back in August, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-31/hayfever-season-worst-in-years-due-to-winter-rain-experts-say/7801528

        For anyone concerned there is a pollen count forecast website here & there is a forum for discussion http://www.melbournepollen.com.au/index.php/forecast

        As I’ve said, this was a very tragic & rare event, & I’m sure there will be protocols put in place to monitor for this sort of event put in place for the future . We cannot blame our ambulance service, hospitals, or government for loss of lives here, & I’m sure some people might be regretting not putting their loved one into a car & driving them to a hospital rather than wait for an ambulance, or get a neighbor to drive them . As with any death, we all ask was there something else we could have done better

  2. Marj DREWITT  

    Totally agree with Jennifer! The message could be given along with weather forecast/ or pollen count info.!

  3. Pingback: Warning: Thunderstorm asthma to hit more states today – Starts at 60

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