Storm related asthma and what you can do to avoid it
In late 2016 thousands of Australians, with no prior history of asthma, found themselves struggling to breath and seeking medical assistance after an outbreak of severe thunderstorms, a few even died. On November 21st at around 6pm, in Melbourne, “winds and rains from a violent thunderstorm stirred up pollen levels in the air, which led to asthma exacerbations throughout the city.” The phenomenon is known as thunder asthma or thunderstorm-associated asthma (TAA). A 2002 study concludes that during severe storms “three groups of factors are implicated as causes of TAA: pollutants (aerobiologic or chemical) and meteorological conditions. Aerobiological pollutants include air-borne allergens: pollen and spores of molds. Their asthma-inducing effect is augmented during thunderstorms. Chemical pollutants include greenhouse gases, heavy metals, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fumes from engines and particulate matter. Their relation to rain-associated asthma is mediated by sulfuric and nitric acid. Outbreaks of non-epidemic asthma are associated with high rainfall, drop in maximum air temperature and pressure, lightning strikes and increased humidity. Thunderstorm can cause all of these and it seems to be related to the onset of asthma epidemic.” In Melbourne that November day “ryegrass pollen was swept up in whorls of wind and carried from four million hectares of pasturelands (about 9.9 million acres) that lie to Melbourne’s north and west” reported the New York Times , sending 8,500 to the hospital “struggling for breath”.
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This is certainly an extreme example, but Spring has sprung bringing the potential for strong storms and rain showers. It is expedient we understand weather related asthma triggers and providing strategies for ourselves and our patients. The following approach was adapted from Kidshealth.org:
If you suspect weather is playing a role in your asthma, keep a diary of asthma symptoms and possible triggers and discuss them with your doctor.
Once you know what kind of weather triggers asthma symptoms, try these tips to protect your yourself:
- Watch the forecast for pollen and mold counts as well as other conditions (extreme cold or heat) that might affect your asthma.
- Limit your outdoor activities on peak trigger days.
- Make sure you wear a scarf over your mouth and nose outside during very cold weather.
- Keep windows closed at night to keep pollens and molds out. If it’s hot, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools, and dries the air.
- Stay indoors early in the morning (before 10 AM) when pollen is at its highest levels.
- Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves, and stay away from freshly cut grass and leaf piles.
- Dry clothes in the dryer (hanging clothes or sheets to dry can allow mold or pollen to collect on them).
- Make sure you always have your quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) on hand.
Your written asthma action plan should list weather triggers and ways to manage them, including any seasonal increases in medication. If your asthma seems to be allergy-related you may also need to see an allergist for medication or allergy shots.
As the springtime adage goes; “April showers bring May flowers”. If you have asthma or even if you don’t, both showers and flowers can leave you thunderstruck; gasping for your next breath!