Asthma sufferers not only ones at risk of attacks in storms

OUT OF THE BLUE: A study found people who didn't know they were at risk of asthma experienced symptoms during storms in Melbourne.
OUT OF THE BLUE: A study found people who didn't know they were at risk of asthma experienced symptoms during storms in Melbourne. Wavebreakmedia

NEVER had asthma, but suffer an odd bout of hayfever?

Keep treatment close at hand, research warns, as storm-induced surprise attacks are on the rise.

Research presented at a lung health conference in Canberra this week warns of a "hidden and significant population susceptible to thunderstorm asthma".

The research showed more people are vulnerable to unexpected, and severe, asthma attacks than previously thought, and Australia must brace for the next pollen season.


NINE people died and more than 8500 needed emergency care after a freak weather event combined with unusually high pollen counts, hot winds and sudden downpours in Victoria in November last year.

The outcome resulted in an explosion of tiny allergen particles which caused widespread, sudden and unpredicted asthma attacks.

About half of the victims were unaware they were even at risk of asthma.

"It is essential that we invest more research into this phenomenon and educate our health services and public to take preventive and preparedness measures," says Thoracic Society for Australia and New Zealand president Professor Peter Gibson.

The Thoracic Society's research study involved more than 500 healthcare workers in Victoria.

Half said they suffered asthma-like symptoms during the thunderstorms. Most had their own treatments at hand. Few sought medical care. One had to be hospitalised.

But the big reveal, the report says, was 37% of those surveyed said they had no prior history of asthma. And yet, they suffered attacks during the storm.


LEAD researcher Dr Daniel Clayton-Chubb said people with a history of hayfever brought about by exposure to the likes of rye grass or mould appeared to have been most prone to the sudden-onset asthma attack, unlike those who tended to react to cats or dust mites.

"The key message from our work is that anyone with hayfever should ensure that they have ready access to quick-acting asthma treatments such as bronchodilators at all times, but particularly in pollen season or if thunderstorms are predicted," he said.

"Severe thunderstorm asthma symptoms can strike rapidly and without warning."

And it doesn't matter whether you are indoors, or outside. The tiny allergen particles, produced when the combination of weather effects cause pollen to explode, can reach almost anywhere.


RESEARCHER, Professor Guy Marks said the best advice was to be prepared, even if you had not previously had an asthma attack.

"In areas at risk of thunderstorm epidemics people who wheeze and sneeze during spring should take regular inhaled corticosteroids during this time to reduce their risk of experiencing severe attacks during thunderstorms," he said.

But Prof Marks said this alone was not a quick fix.

A variety of environmental conditions can trigger such attacks, ranging from thunderstorms through to forest fires and even hazard reduction burns.

"Epidemics of acute respiratory illness can occur unpredictably and have the capacity to spread rapidly over a wide area," he said.

"We need to develop capacity within the health system to respond rapidly and effectively to these. This needs to be co-ordinated at a national level."

Topics:  asthma asthma attack general-seniors-news health and wellbeing wellbeing

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