I heard on the news about something called “Thunderstorm Asthma”, have you ever heard of it? I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced this type of event, if you have please email me at TheVentMask@gmail.com and tell me your story. However...read on!
When you say Thunderstorm Asthma it conjures up the image of ones asthma or allergies being triggered by loud claps of thunder. Headline reads “ Man startled by thunder clap into asthmatic event coins new term “Thunderstorm Asthma”!
Ok ok….you’re smarter than I am and probably figured out quickly that Thunderstorm Asthma isn’t asthma brought on by thunder claps but the actual physical effects of the storm on the environment that trigger severe asthma and allergy reactions.
According to the Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Institute (AAII) in Michigan, "it is the airflow patterns in thunderstorms and not the electrical activity, thunder itself or rain that trigger asthma epidemics." During a thunderstorm, the downdraft of cold air concentrates allergen particles like pollen and mold spores and brings them into the clouds, which then work at breaking them down and re-releasing them with the rain. Their highly concentrated nature "can cause severe asthma attacks in patients who are sensitized to the various allergens," the AAII says.
Spring and summer seasons are ripe with thunderstorms and, per the AAII, July is a particularly volatile month since fungal mold spores are on the rise and grass pollens are dissipating, making them both available for concentration thanks to those downdrafts.
How serious can these storms be? A recent storm in Australia killed 8 people and sent 8500 others to hospitals with severe life threatening asthma symptoms. There have been events where thunderstorms have caused asthma attacks across cities such that emergency services and hospitals have been overwhelmed. The phenomenon was first recognized and studied after three recorded events in the 1980s. Then in Birmingham, England in 1983 and in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 and 1989. Since then there have been further reports of widespread thunderstorm asthma in Wagga Wagga, Australia… London, England...Naples, Italy…Atlanta, United States… and Ahvaz, Iran. A further outbreak in Melbourne, in November 2016, that overwhelmed the ambulance system and some local hospitals, resulted in at least nine deaths. There was a similar incident in Kuwait in early December, 2016 with at least 5 deaths and many admissions to the ICU. (*1)
So what exactly happens during a thunderstorm to cause such bad asthma and allergy triggers? Thunderstorm asthma occurs when a storm hits during a period of unusually high rye grass pollen, said Robin Ould, chief executive of the Asthma Foundation of Australia. "When you have a perfect storm coming together of a very high pollen day, high humidity, and a thunderstorm, the grains of rye grass absorb water with the humidity and they break up into thousands of pieces," Ould said.
Ould continued, "Normally with rye grass the pollen would be trapped by nose hairs. When it breaks up it goes straight to the lungs." (*2)
The pollen irritates the lungs' bronchial tubes, causing them to become inflamed and filled with mucus and making it hard for people to breathe. A rye grass pollen grain can hold up to 700 tiny starch granules, measuring 0.6 to 2.5 μm, small enough to reach the lower airways in the lung. (*1)
Don’t panic though there are precautions and ways to be safe during one of these weather events. The main idea is to keep out of the way of allergens. So, stay indoors during rain and wind periods, especially the first 30-60 minutes when the allergens are most prevalent. Hayfever treatments such as antihistamine tablets and steroid nasal sprays may provide some relief. These are most useful if taken prior to an expected thunderstorm. However, as thunderstorm asthma is due to allergens reaching the lower parts of the lung and nasal sprays target the nose, you may still get an asthma attack. 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 000 if your asthma worsens or you feel any breathing difficulty.
It would be a good idea to provide an added line of filtration in your home such as VentMask to trap more of the rye grass pollens before they can be circulated through out your home.
Stay vigilant and stay healthy!
Wishing you the best health!-TheVentMaskTeam