Have a safety plan this thunderstorm asthma season

Thunderstorm asthma takes place when thunderstorms occur during high pollen periods.

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has urged families and patients with asthma, including those in Sunbury and Macedon Ranges, to have an asthma plan in place as pollen levels rise.

Thunderstorm asthma takes place when thunderstorms occur during high pollen periods, and symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and coughing.

Along with people with asthma, those with allergic rhinitis or ryegrass and pollen allergy are at higher risk, and it can also impact people with no history of asthma or allergy.

Thunderstorm asthma claimed ten lives and triggered a 672 per cent rise in respiratory-related presentations to Melbourne and Geelong public hospitals during one tragic event in 2016.

RACGP vice president Bruce Willett said patients should have an asthma plan in place.

“Be alert and be prepared, especially in Victoria where pollen levels are high and the weather has been stormy,” he said.

“Where there have been high rainfall levels and warm, humid weather, grass blooms, and pollen counts go up.

“Other jurisdictions have had lower pollen counts this week, but caution – not alarm – is still warranted. Thunderstorm asthma has also affected people without asthma symptoms in the past.

“There are positive steps you should take, especially if you or someone you know experiences asthma.

“People who suffer from hay fever as well as current, past, or undiagnosed asthmatics are at increased risk and should be prepared to carefully monitor and manage symptoms in the months ahead.”

Mr Willett said residents should book a consultation with their GP and ask about how to best manage their asthma and be prepared for potential thunderstorm asthma events this spring and summer.

“It also useful for those with high-risk factors to regularly check the Victorian Department of Health’s epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk forecast,” he said.

“No one can predict when thunderstorm asthma will strike with total certainty, but we can prevent harm by being aware of the dangers and taking sensible precautions.

“We also strongly recommend you monitor the thunderstorm asthma risk, carry your reliever with you at all times, take your preventive medication even if asthma symptoms aren’t present.

“[We also recommend you] avoid being outdoors when storms strike or during the winds that often precede storm events.”

The RACGP’s fact sheet has useful tips for GPs and general practice staff on how to best help patients at risk due to thunderstorm asthma.