Thunderstorm Asthma

By: Cami Swafford

Last Monday, a thunderstorm in Australia left thousands of people breathless. In Melbourne and parts of Victoria, hospitals were filled with approximately 8,500 patients that suffered from trouble breathing. So far, eight have died, seven remain in the hospital, and one is still in critical condition. At the time of the outbreak, there were thousands of emergency phone calls within the span of just a few hours.

This illness was caused by a rare combination of thunderstorm and asthma-inducing pollen. Thunderstorm asthma, as it is typically referred as, produces an asthma attack due to pollen particles entering the lungs and causing inflammation. A third of the people affected by this illness reported that they had never had asthma before; although, people who have asthma are at a higher risk of being affected by it.

This storm was made possible because Melbourne has had double the amount of rye pollen this spring season, leading to the perfect mix of storm and high levels of pollen. However, this is not the first occurrence of thunderstorm asthma in the world. Areas such as the United States, Canada, the U.K., and Italy have reportedly experienced similar incidents in the past.

It is recommended that those with asthma take extra caution when there is a storm during a season of high pollination. “Keep updated on local pollen counts and weather forecasts, especially in spring; keep your asthma medication up to date; enjoy the spectacle of the thunderstorm from inside your house; and call emergency services if your asthma worsens or you feel any breathing difficulty,” stated Reena Ghildyal, an expert in biomedical sciences at the University of Canberra. Although thunderstorm asthma is not common, we should all be cautious during storms and seasons of high-pollen counts because you never know if this freak illness will hit you next.