Find out if you are at risk of thunderstorm asthma
- People with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or asthma are at risk and should take preventive action
- People from South-Asia and Southeast Asia are encouraged to visit their doctor for an allergy test
- People in affected areas (Melbourne to Tamworth, NSW) are being encouraged to download the Emergency Victoria App and learn Asthma First Aid
November sees the start of Thunderstorm asthma season and if you are someone who gets a sniffle and sneeze, or who gets a bit breathless during spring, Asthma Australia is urging you to visit the doctor to find out if you are at risk.
People at risk of thunderstorm asthma have allergic rhinitis (hay fever), with or without diagnosed asthma, and are sensitive to rye grass pollen.
People of South Asian or Southeast Asian background may be more vulnerable based on those who were most impacted during the 2016 Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma event.
CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman said there are large groups in the community with untreated allergies or asthma who could be vulnerable to a serious attack.
“If in doubt, you should see a doctor and ask about thunderstorm asthma and how to get tested for rye grass allergy,” Ms Goldmans said.
“In the 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma event, 10 people died, thousands of people were blindsided by asthma, queuing up at hospitals and struggling with asthma for months afterwards. We never want to see a repeat of that,” she said.
“This season could bring many storms, so please learn Asthma First Aid and how to recognise an asthma attack.
“Tight chest, difficulty breathing, gasping, wheezing, puffing when speaking and persistent coughing are all signs someone can’t breathe well,” Ms Goldman added.
Thunderstorm asthma is a dangerous health phenomenon that can affect Victorians, Canberrans and surrounds, and those in central regions of New South Wales such as Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, and as far north as Tamworth.
People are strongly encouraged to find out if they are at risk by seeing a doctor and requesting a skin prick allergy test or a blood allergy test to ryegrass pollen. This is the gold standard to determine the presence of specific rye grass allergies. They should access recommended preventer treatment and get an Asthma Action Plan.
“Asthma Australia strongly recommends anyone who suspects they have hay fever to discuss their symptoms with their doctor or pharmacist. A few months of evidence-based preventer treatment could mean the difference between good health and a catastrophe,” Ms Goldman said.
On 21 November 2016, the world’s largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event ever recorded hit Melbourne and killed 10 people- six were people from Indian, Sri Lankan and south–east Asian ethnicity.
Within 30 hours of the storm, there were 3365 (672%) excess respiratory-related presentations to emergency departments, and 476 (992%) excess asthma-related admissions to hospital.
Studies conducted after the event showed that many people who did not have a diagnosis of asthma, but were sensitive to grass pollen, experienced respiratory symptoms. Many of these people were unaware of their pre-existing sensitivity and 39% of these hospital presentations and admissions were people of Indian, Sri Lankan and south-east Asian birth.
Thunderstorm asthma events are triggered by an uncommon combination of high grass pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm, causing pollen grains from grasses to be swept up in the wind and carried long distances.
Some pollens can burst open and release tiny particles that are concentrated in the wind just before the thunderstorm. These small particles get deep into the airways and can trigger asthma symptoms.
The community is reminded that Emergency Victoria has turned on the Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma Risk Forecast System, which will help Victorians monitor their risk as we face yet another La ’Nina summer.
ADVICE TO PREPARE FOR A HIGH POLLEN DAY OR THUNDERSTORM ASTHMA WARNING
To avoid exposure, Asthma Australia is advising on high pollen days for those at risk to stay inside with the windows and doors closed until after the storm has passed and to keep reliever medication on hand.
- Keep up-to-date with changes in weather conditions. For thunderstorm asthma forecasts and alerts in Victoria go to www.emergency.vic.gov.au/respond and/or download the app.
- Always keep your reliever inhaler and spacer with you. Reliever inhalers and spacers are available over the counter at any pharmacy.
- Ensure your workplace is informed about your asthma and risk of thunderstorm asthma, and you have a plan in place.
- On high pollen days and when thunderstorms are forecast, go inside and close your doors and windows. If you have your air conditioner on, turn it to recirculate.
- Act quickly if you notice any asthma symptoms as instructed in your written Asthma Action Plan.
- Learn Asthma First Aid. Ensure people in your home or workplace know how to recognise your asthma and how to administer Asthma First Aid.
ASTHMA FIRST AID
Never ignore asthma symptoms like breathlessness, wheezing and tightness in the chest. Start Asthma First Aid immediately and call Triple Zero (000) for help if symptoms do not get any better or if they start to get worse.
Asthma First Aid for blue/grey reliever medication*
- Sit the person upright
- Give 4 separate inhalations of a blue/grey reliever inhaler
- Wait 4 minutes
- If no improvement call Triple Zero (000)
- Continue to give 4 separate puffs of a blue/grey reliever puffer every 4 minutes until the ambulance arrives
*If your reliever is not a blue/grey puffer style, see our Asthma First Aid chart here
- 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462) for asthma education and support
- National Home Doctor Service 13 SICK (13 74 25) for after-hours home doctor visits (bulked billed)
- To speak to a registered nurse, call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (this is an Australia-wide 24-hour triage)
- If you are unable to access a General Practitioner, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) available 24-hours 7 days https://www.health.qld.gov.au/13health (available in QLD only)
- In an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000)
For more information:
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Asthma Australia is the nation’s peak body representing 2.7 million Australians living with asthma. We’ve been here since 1962 and even though a lot has changed since then, asthma continues to claim a life each day and is the number one health condition burdening Aussie children. Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways, restricting airflow and can be fatal. There is no cure, but most people with asthma can experience good control.