Those prone to respiratory ailments and hay fever are urged to exercise extra caution as October marks the start of grass pollen season, bringing a risk of stormy asthma.
The Bureau of Meteorology predicts that much of Australia will be affected by heavy spring rains, which can lead to above-average grass growth and ryegrass pollen.
People with hay fever and ryegrass pollen allergies may be at risk for stormy asthma, even if they have never had asthma symptoms before.
Stormy asthma is thought to be triggered by a unique combination of large amounts of grass pollen in the air and a certain type of thunderstorm.
For people with asthma or hay fever, especially those who wheeze or cough with their hay fever, stormy asthma can be sudden, severe, and even life threatening.
According to researchers at Melbourne Pollen: Count and Forecast, Melbourne experiences an average of 20 days of high and extreme grass pollen each season – those are bad days for people with a grass pollen allergy.
Last year Melbourne experienced 33 days of high and extreme grass pollen between October 1 and December 31.
Councilor Rob Steane says managing your asthma and hay fever now could help lower your risk of stormy asthma.
“Even if you don’t have asthma, taking extra precautionary measures is essential as airborne pollens are at their highest this time of year,” said Cr Steane.
“Hay fever and seasonal asthma can cause severe respiratory distress in sufferers. That’s why it’s important to know about stormy asthma and what you can do to protect yourself and others, ”he said.
On November 21, 2016, Melbourne experienced the world’s largest stormy asthma epidemic event, which saw thousands of people develop breathing difficulties in a very short period of time. Nine people died of asthma attacks after the severe thunderstorm.
Prepare and protect yourself from stormy asthma
If a thunderstorm is approaching on a day with high pollen counts, it’s a good idea to:
- Make sure you have your reliever inhaler with you. Relief inhalers and spacers are available over the counter at any drugstore.
- Stay indoors and make sure all doors and windows are closed. If you have an air conditioner, turn it to recirculate the air.
- Continue to take your preventative medication and appropriate treatment for your allergies, including hay fever.
- Make sure you have an up-to-date asthma action plan and learn the four steps of asthma first aid.
- Keep abreast of changing weather conditions. For stormy asthma forecasts and alerts in Victoria, go to the Vic Emergency website or download the VicEmergency app and set up a “watch zone” for your location.
- Download the Melbourne Pollen: Count and Forecast app. Pollen counts are issued daily at 7 a.m. to alert people with hay fever and seasonal asthma to the likelihood of exposure to high levels of grasses or other pollens. The service also issues stormy asthma warnings issued by the Victoria Department of Health. You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for updates.
When to ask for help
Never ignore asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness. Begin asthma first aid immediately and call triple zero (000) for help if symptoms do not improve.