Home » A thunderstorm asthma warning has been issued. Here's what it is and who it affects

A thunderstorm asthma warning has been issued. Here's what it is and who it affects

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Key PointsVictorian authorities have issued a warning for epidemic thunderstorm asthma in certain regions.People with asthma or hay fever are urged to stay indoors. People from Indian, Sri Lankan and South East Asian ethnicities are thought to be at high risk of the condition.People with asthma or hay fever are being urged to stay indoors in parts of Victoria after authorities issued a thunderstorm asthma warning.Victoria's chief health officer issued a "high" forecast for epidemic thunderstorm asthma on Thursday for the Mallee and Wimmera districts in the state's northwest, which means there is an increased chance of an event occurring. Thunderstorm asthma is a potentially dangerous condition that . People from Indian, Sri Lankan and South East Asian ethnicities are thought to be at high risk of the condition, with 39 per cent of hospital presentations and admissions in 2016 from these groups.

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How does thunderstorm asthma happen?

Epidemic thunderstorm asthma is when a large number of people suddenly develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time. It is thought to be triggered by high grass pollen levels that can burst open and release tiny particles during a certain type of thunderstorm. It can affect those in Victoria, Canberra and surrounds, as well as those in central regions of NSW including Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and as far north as Tamworth.

The Bureau of Meteorology works closely with state authorities to forecast the risk of an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event.

Lightning lights up a purple skyLightning lights up a purple sky

A thunderstorm asthma event is triggered by high grass pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm. Source: AAP / Twitter/Celicajim

How can you tell if you are at risk?

Studies after the 2016 thunderstorm asthma event found many people who did not have a diagnosis of asthma but were sensitive to grass pollen could also experience respiratory symptoms.This could include people who get hay fever (with or without known asthma), as they are often sensitive to grass pollen. People with a history of asthma or sensitivity or allergies to grass pollen in general were also at risk.

Symptoms may feel like:

Sudden breathlessness;Tight chest;Wheezing;Coughing; andInability to speak in full sentences.Symptoms in children may include fatigue, irritability, complaints about a sore tummy, as well as displaying sucking in movements around the chest and throat when breathing.Symptoms can appear suddenly and must be treated immediately with an asthma reliever puffer.

For those with hay fever, seeing a clinical immunologist can help them figure out what is triggering their reactions, which is important for understanding whether they are susceptible to thunderstorm asthma. Other allergens could include house dust mites, cat dander or fungal spores.

What should people do during the warning period?

to stay inside with windows and doors closed before, during and after a storm has passed. Those with asthma should have their reliever medication on hand.To treat asthma symptoms, start first aid immediately and call Triple Zero (000) for help if symptoms do not get any better or if they start to get worse.The first aid steps for asthma are listed below for the blue/grey asthma medication:

1. Sit the person upright

2. Give four separate puffs of a blue/grey reliever puffer

3. Wait four minutes

4. Repeat

5. If there is no improvement, call Triple Zero (000)

6. Continue to give four separate puffs of a blue/grey reliever puffer every four minutes until the ambulance arrives.

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