Last updated on 03/10/2017


MELBOURNE: Asthma Australia Ltd is urging people to learn the asthma first aid steps as the anniversary of last year’s tragic thunderstorm asthma event approaches.

The Victorian government has invested $15m in health initiatives to tackle thunderstorm asthma including an alert system via the emergency services.

Alerts can be accessed online or via a smartphone app. Early warning allows people to prepare for thunderstorms and high pollen days by limiting pollen exposure, staying indoors with windows closed and air conditioning set to recycle.

This relies on people being aware of the risk and knowing they are susceptible, yet many of those affected by last year’s event were taken by surprise.

A/Prof Janet Davies from QUT said, “What we saw last year was very unexpected, in particular because about forty percent of those affected were not diagnosed with asthma.

Most people in the community did not know about thunderstorm asthma prior to the event in November. Many people at risk – those with hay fever, or asthma and hay fever, may not see themselves as vulnerable to thunderstorm asthma.”

Asthma affects 1 in 9 Australians so most people will know someone with asthma in their workplace, school, family or social group.

Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Australia said; “Good asthma management year-round as well as treating hay fever symptoms makes a person less vulnerable to a severe flare-up during a thunderstorm asthma event. This includes taking preventer medication as prescribed, having an asthma action plan and an annual review with your doctor.”

Asthma Australia Ltd is urging people to learn asthma first aid steps in case they are affected or encounter someone else experiencing an asthma flare-up.

Ms Goldman said, “When someone has an asthma attack it can come on suddenly and symptoms can worsen quickly so it’s really important that people know the asthma first aid steps, even if they don’t have asthma. They may be able to help others affected if need be.”

Reliever medication to treat asthma flare-ups is effective first aid; it is available over the counter at pharmacies and can be accessed at hospital in an emergency. Schools and workplaces may also carry a blue reliever puffer in their first aid kits.

Ms Goldman said; “In an emergency, giving asthma medication to a person struggling to breathe could be the difference between life and death. The high prevalence of asthma in Australia means more people are at risk of a flare-up but it also means there are more people around with that life-saving medication in their pocket, handbag or car.”

Ms Goldman added: “Asthma medication is very safe. Even if someone does not have a diagnosis of asthma but is experiencing serious asthma symptoms, particularly when there are high pollen and thunderstorm conditions, a blue reliever puffer is unlikely to do harm and could save their life.

Anyone with asthma should carry reliever medication at all times. However, if someone is without their medication or is experiencing their first asthma flare-up, perhaps pre-diagnosis, we’d urge people to get medication the quickest way they can.”

Preventative treatment for pollen sensitisation in the lead-up to spring can help those allergic to grass pollen, including people with hay fever who have not experienced asthma before.

Recent evidence1 has also shown many people are not managing their asthma well, relying heavily on reliever medication rather than using a preventer, leaving them at risk of flare-ups.

Anyone with asthma using their reliver puffer on more than 2 days per week should talk to their doctor about improving their asthma management.

Prof Jo Douglass from The Royal Melbourne Hospital commented; “It’s important to remember those worst affected were people diagnosed with asthma. The greatest risk is poorly managed asthma that leaves people vulnerable when exposed to triggers such as thunderstorm asthma conditions.”

Asthma Australia has released a short video showing the asthma first aid steps, which are:

  1. Sit the person upright, do not leave them alone.
  2. Give 4 separate puffs of blue reliever puffer:*
    • Shake puffer
    • Put 1 puff into spacer
    • Take 4 breaths from spacer. Repeat until 4 puffs have been taken. Remember: Shake, 1 puff, 4 breaths
  3. Wait 4 minutes- If there is no improvement, give 4 more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever as above**
  4.  If there is still no improvement call emergency assistance.

– Dial Triple Zero (000)

– Say ‘ambulance’ and that someone is having an asthma attack

– Keep giving 4 separate puffs every 4 minutes until emergency assistance arrives***

For more information about asthma call the free 1800 ASTHMA (278462) service to speak to an Asthma Educator or go to

The below *recommendations have since been updated to reflect more recent research:

* OR give 2 separate inhalations of Bricanyl (6 years or older)
OR give 1 inhalation of Symbicort Turbuhaler (12 years or older)
OR give 2 puffs of Symbicort Rapihaler through a spacer (12 years or older)

** OR give 1 more inhalation of Bricanyl
OR give 1 more inhalation of Symbicort Turbuhaler
OR give 2 puffs of Symbicort Rapihaler through a spacer

*** OR give 1 inhalation of a Bricanyl or Symbicort Turbuhaler every 4 minutes – up to a max of 4 more inhalations of Symbicort Turbuhaler
OR give 2 puffs of Symbicort Rapihaler through a spacer every 4 minutes – up to a max of 8 more puffs of Symbicort Rapihaler