Thunderstorm asthma warning eases in Melbourne as rain falls

Victorians are being told the worst is over for forecasted high-risk conditions for developing a deadly form of asthma.

Thunderstorm asthma is the term used to describe asthma brought on as a result of a high pollen count in the air and windy conditions on stormy days.

Royal Melbourne Hospital allergist and clinical immunologist Kymble Spriggs said the risk of developing thunderstorm asthma on Friday had fallen as the afternoon rain settled in.

However, those who have already been exposed to the high pollen count may still develop symptoms into the afternoon.

Ten people died in 2016 when storms triggered thousands of asthma attacks.

Hospitals were put under tremendous pressure by the spike in asthma admissions and many pharmacies ran out of the medication required to treat it.

Dr Springs said the condition was more likely to occur in people who were sensitive to grass pollen and could impact those with no prior history of asthma.

“On thunderstorm days we think the pollen is fractured into smaller, easier to respire particles which coupled with the high winds associated with storms can be breathed in deeply into the lungs,” Dr Spriggs said.

This can lead to potentially severe asthma symptoms, including shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, difficulty breathing and sometimes cough.

Health professionals are particularly concerned this year due to the additional impact of long Covid on respiratory systems.

“It’s really troublesome for those people,” Dr Spriggs said.

“I suspect those people are probably not as well able to deal with a further insult like asthma and hayfever symptoms.”

He said Covid had offered a respite to thunderstorm asthma sufferers, with lockdowns and mask wearing providing limited exposure to pollen.

Dr Spriggs warned that seasonal asthma sufferers might not recognise the symptoms of asthma because they only rarely experiences them.

With more above average rainfall forecast for the southern state for the rest of the year, Dr Spriggs warned that those prone to asthma and hayfever might experience worsened symptoms.

He suggested that seasonal asthma sufferers prepare an asthma management plan with their GP and consider the prescription of an asthma preventer.

They can also keep track of future warnings for high-risk conditions on the VicEmergency app.

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