October 12, 2023

Thunderstorm Asthma Season has rolled in

The arrival of October brings the start of grass pollen season running from 1 October to 31 December annually, which also increases the chance of Thunderstorm Asthma.

Warmer weather, increased amounts of grass pollen in the air and certain types of thunderstorms when combined can result in an Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma (ETSA) event triggering severe asthma.

Symptoms of ETSA include an itchy and runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and/or chest tightness. Some of these symptoms can become very severe, very quickly, and may require urgent medical assistance.

Extreme ETSA events, like that experienced on 21 November 2016, can result in large numbers of people with sudden onset asthma in temporal and spatial relation to the storm, and large geographical areas affecting multiple health services, with a resultant strain on health and emergency services.

Epidemiologists recommend that people with current, past or undiagnosed asthma, and those with seasonal allergic rhinitis, have a current asthma action plan to follow (updated by their GP). They should also learn asthma first aid and stay out of storms from October through to December.

Further advice during an ETSA event is to stay inside and close your doors and windows and, if you have your air conditioner on, turn it to recirculate.

Dr Katharine See, Director of Respiratory Medicine, said people with hayfever, a history of asthma or undiagnosed asthma, were most at risk of thunderstorm asthma.

“Thunderstorm asthma occurs when pollen particles are sucked up into thunderstorm clouds where they release microparticles. These micropollens are showered down at the start of a storm and being so small, are able to get deep into the lungs where they are able to cause severe symptoms,” she said.

“The best way to stay safe during thunderstorm asthma season is to make sure you have good asthma control all year round. This means, taking your preventer everywhere, particularly during thunderstorm asthma season.”

“When a storm is coming, stay inside with the doors and windows closed – don’t let that micropollen in.”

Dr See urges anyone at risk to never ignore the symptoms of asthma. It is also important for everyone in the community to be able to recognise the symptoms of someone having an asthma attack and to know the four steps of asthma first aid:

Step 1: Sit person suffering the attack upright.

Step 2: Shake the blue/grey reliever puffer and give them four separate puffs using a spacer if available.

Step 3: Wait four minutes and give four more puffs if the person cannot breathe normally.

Step 4: Call an ambulance if they still cannot breathe normally and keep giving reliever puffs as above until an ambulance arrives.

For people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of asthma or are unsure of the severity of what you’re experiencing, please contact the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department for further assistance, visit your GP or attend your closest Priority Primary Care Centre. For life-threatening emergencies, please visit your nearest emergency department.

Jason Amos, Manager, Emergency Management, reminds staff that the Code Brown – External Emergency procedure and the Code Brown Subplan – Thunderstorm Asthma procedure are available on prompt to ensure appropriate response to Code Brown/Thunderstorms Asthma events.

“This is a timely reminder for staff to ensure they are aware of our emergency plans for such events,” said Jason.

You can access daily forecasts for ETSA events here.

Featured image: Jason Amos, Manager, Emergency Management and Dr Katharine See, Director of Respiratory Medicine.