Last week, a rare combination of weather and pollen caused a condition known as thunderstorm asthma, killing at least eight people in Australia.
So what is thunderstorm asthma, why haven’t we heard about it until now and what can we do to prevent it? Tonya Winders, CEO and president of the Allergy & Asthma Network spoke with SheKnows about the weather-related health phenomenon.
When heavy thunderstorms hit, they lift grass, tree and weed pollen along with mold spores into the air we breathe, Winders explained. From there, torrential rain makes the allergens wet and then separates them into even smaller particles, which are then spread by the storm’s strong winds.
When we inhale, all the pollen and mold — now even smaller than usual and traveling via the wind — can trigger asthma and allergy problems. “Even someone with mild allergy symptoms may experience respiratory distress during thunderstorms,” Winders said.
Technically, yes, but it is uncommon, Winders noted. Most of the severe cases have been reported in Australia, England and Italy, though it is likely that it has happened in the United States as well, “just not on a wide-ranging level like what occurred in Melbourne last week,” she said.
Yes; it could become more prevalent. “Climate scientists say pollen allergy seasons could become longer and thunderstorms more potent with heavier rains and strong winds,” Winders said.
First, Winders suggests that parents speak to their child’s doctor to determine if they are allergic to mold or spores. If allergies are found, then steps can be taken to manage the condition, either with medication or avoidance.
Also, staying inside during thunderstorms with the windows closed is an important prevention strategy. If you or your child are outside during or just prior to a storm, be sure to take a shower and change clothes. Lastly, if a child is diagnosed with asthma, parents should carry a quick-relief inhaler to use at the first signs of any symptoms, Winders said.
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