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Made in India Magazine | September 23, 2021

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Baahir Atwal

Thunderstorm asthma is sweeping across the Victorian region in Australia as we write this, and in this piece we tell you how to keep the condition at bay. We also give you a short FYI on what causes thunderstorm asthma, and how to be vigilant depending on the weather. Don’t miss this, especially if you’re an asthma sufferer.

Eight people in Melbourne and the wider Victoria area have died in what is being called a ‘thunderstorm asthma’ attack, which is a freak attack that has happened due to a combination of grass pollen and the wet, warm weather that has been plaguing the region recently. Here are a few things you need to know about this condition. Please take note because the symptoms can be quite life-threatening.

1. It is a version of hay fever, only more dangerous
When grass pollen enters the nose, the nose blocks the pollen’s entry into the lungs, and therefore it causes irritation of the nose, which causes watery eyes and a runny nose, classic symptoms of hay fever. However, when grass pollen combines with moisture in the air, the water particles break down the pollen into smaller pieces, which allow them to enter the lungs. This causes asthma-like symptoms, and is being called ‘thunderstorm asthma’.

2. What are the symptoms?
The symptoms occur quickly, and they include shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing.

3. If you have hay fever, you’re at risk
You’re at risk of being affected by thunderstorm asthma if you have a history of hay fever. Perhaps counter-intuitively, you will likely be okay if you have an asthma history without hay fever history. In a 1997 study, 95% of those affected by thunderstorm asthma had a history of hay fever, and 96% tested positive to grass pollen allergies. So if you have a history of grass pollen allergy or hay fever, then you should be on guard against thunderstorm asthma.

4. Prevention is better than cure
Just like any other asthma or allergic attack, prevention is easier than cure, and is more reliable. Use a regular preventer inhaler if you are at risk for thunderstorm asthma. These inhalers should be used at regular intervals even if you feel well. They are designed to reduce the inflammation in the lungs over a long period of time, so if you use them regularly, asthma attacks can be kept at bay. Treatment will involve the same steps as regular asthma treatment, which involves the administration of inhaled medication to dilate the airways.

5. Wet spring weather to be treated as cautious
There are no specific geographic areas that are prone to this, but this year, with Victoria receiving a lot of precipitation in spring, it has fallen to prey to thunderstorm asthma. In general, if you’re an asthma sufferer and you find yourself in a place that has spring-like weather (flowers in full bloom) and is wet, then your alarm bells should go off and you should use your inhaler diligently, no matter how ‘well’ you feel. Stay safe!

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