Thunderstorm Asthma- learning from the past & preparing for next time
What Happened in Melbourne back in November 2016?
9 people lost their lives, hundreds of people were hospitalised and thousands of people were affected by breathing problems due to thunderstorm asthma. Medical services were overwhelmed by an unexpected surge in sudden-onset attacks of severe wheezing and coughing, often in people who were undiagnosed as asthmatic.
What Caused it?
There was more grass pollen than usual. This was swept up into the air by gusts of wind and became saturated with water up in the clouds. As the pollen grains swelled with water they burst into tiny fragments which could then be breathed far deeper into your lungs. The clouds dispersed, emptying these fragments into the air where cool winds blew them like a mist down to ground level. Melbourne was thrown into chaos.
This phenomenon has been known to happen from time-to-time all over the world when the conditions described above occur.
Who was Affected?
For the most part, people who are known to be sensitive to grass pollen were affected – asthmatics and hay fever sufferers. But for many it was entirely unpredictable.
What Should I do if Thunderstorm Asthma happens again?
- Stay indoors and shut all the windows and doors if there’s a warning issued or if you’re developing symptoms.
- If you’re known to have hayfever or asthma, ensure you have a supply of ventolin inhalers with a spacer and educate yourself on how to use these devices. If you’re in any doubt, ask your GP or take a look on the internet for instructional videos.
- Take an antihistamine.
4. If you’re having trouble breathing and ventolin isn’t relieving your symptoms, call an ambulance. But don’t 100% rely on an ambulance being available if there’s a repeat of the thunderstorm asthma events of November 2016 – the 9 fatalities couldn’t get an ambulance in time.
5. If you have asthma or thunderstorm asthma, get an “Asthma Action Plan” from your GP. It’s all about planning.
6. A new warning system for Thunderstorm Asthma has been launched in Victoria, in a bid to prevent serious illness and fatalities, as occurred in Melbourne in 2016. If you have asthma or hay fever, it’s worth getting the emergency app which is downloadable from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Go to www.emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare to find out more.
You can obtain prescription asthma inhalers from Qoctor, the Quick Online Doctor conveniently and cheaply.