The Conversation: Thunderstorm asthma: who’s at risk and how to manage it

“Late in the afternoon of a hot spring day, November 21, 2016, a thunderstorm from the northwest swept over Geelong and Melbourne, triggering the world’s most devastating thunderstorm asthma epidemic.

The scale and impact of this unparalleled public health emergency took Victorians by surprise. Thousands of people began, almost simultaneously, to experience breathing difficulties, because stormy winds and moisture can break up pollen into particles small enough to enter the airways.

Through valiant efforts by the ambulance service, hospital networks, general practitioners and pharmacists, the vast majority of thunderstorm-affected patients were successfully treated. Tragically, ten people died, and their deaths are now under coronial investigation.

Of the ten thunderstorm asthma epidemics reported in Australia, seven were in Melbourne. This highlights the city’s vulnerability to unique interactions between particular types of thunderstorms and springtime grass pollen exposure. But other temperate regions around Australia where grasses are cultivated for animal feed have also experienced thunderstorm asthma, such as Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. Thunderstorm asthma events may be influenced and potentially worsened by emerging changes in climate.”

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