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Thunderstorm asthma is a weather epidemic killer and has scientists still questioning as to what causes it. But what we do know is that it is a freak weather event that triggers fatal breathing problems in even the healthiest of people and its season to strike is right around the corner.
In November, 2016, nine people died, hospitals became overcrowded and emergency rooms packed when nearly 10,000 people started experiencing severe breathing and allergy problems to the point where they needed to be hospitalised. This was in Victoria, Australia, and was all caused by the combination of a certain type of thunderstorm and pollen.
While only a few of these instances have happened around the world, namely in Europe, Australia and the Middle East, annual reports show that thunderstorm asthma occurrences are on the rise. Especially more since we are seeing an increase in wild weather patterns.
What causes this airborne epidemic and how can you prepare against thunderstorm asthma? Let’s take a look.
In many of the regular thunderstorm asthma areas, there is an annual grass pollen season. For America, this is from September to November and in Australia, it is October to December. This is when hay fever and seasonal allergies climb the most and when thunderstorm asthma is most likely to occur.
The problem is with this epidemic is that research is very limited as to what exact weather system causes thunderstorm asthma. From previous studies in Australia on its cause, it is said that when pollen is in season and in the air it interacts with specific weather conditions to amplify the effects the pollen has not just on allergy sufferers, but also people who generally don’t suffer from allergies. For those that do suffer pollen allergies and have asthma, the effects can lead to death in some circumstances.
Research conducted at the University of Georgia and Emory University and published in the Thorax research journal has shown a direct correlation between asthma-related hospital emergencies and thunderstorms in Atlanta, Georgia. This is as far as substantiated research goes when it comes to predicting when it can occur, but what we do know is that is can happen in the US as well.
What researchers do know is that there are specific storms that work with the pollen to magnify it, and some other storms that do not. But as to what exact storm type causes this natural phenomenon is something we are still in the dark about and they’re trying hard to figure this out, considering the international effect this problem has, and the fact that it could strike at any time.
The United States alone already has two million emergency room visits each year caused by asthma, so the effect of something such as thunderstorm asthma would be an overwhelming shock to medical treatment facilities in the country.
At the moment, services and medical emergency alerts are notifying individuals to inform themselves about what to do in the case of an asthma attack. There is no knowledge yet of any different methods to prepare for a specific thunderstorm asthma except those that would be usually performed for a general asthmatic attack.
The emergency management authorities of Australia’s biggest thunderstorm asthma attack provide some simple preparatory steps that you can follow if you suffer allergies or are an asthmatic.
First, the symptoms of such an attack are:
The Victorian Government says everyone in the community should know the signs and symptoms of thunderstorm asthma and the four steps of asthma first aid, which are:
If you are not sure if someone is having an asthma attack, you can still use asthma reliever medication because it is unlikely to cause harm.
To know if you are at risk of thunderstorm asthma, ask yourself or your family the following:
If you are one of these people, you should: