THREE people are reported dead from thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne on Monday night after a thunderstorm overwhelmed ambulance services and hospital emergency departments in what’s predicted to be part of the growing allergy phenomonen.
The recent tragedy highlights the growing phenomenom of thunderstorm asthma; described by world allergy organisation doctors and scientists to be part of a phenomenon related to climate change and air pollution.
Health authorities say three people who reported respiratory difficulties – including one who waited 30 minutes for an ambulance – died as hundreds of calls for help hit emergency services after Monday evening’s storm.
Ambulance state health commander Paul Hom said “It’s something in my 40 years I’ve never seen before,” – an extra 50 ambulances were put on the road and even paramedics were forced to call in help from the fire brigade and hospitals came close to running out of asthma reliever medication.
How exactly did it happen?
The pollen count on Monday in Melbourne was extreme with up to 102 grass grains per m³ of air being recorded, followed by a gusty day featuring winds coming off the state’s northern pastures. Then followed by a severe change at about 6pm with storms and strong winds that churned up pollen, dust and other irritants causing respiratory attacks known as Thunderstorm Asthma.
But this is not the first time, Melbourne has experienced a previous severe thunderstorm asthma event. In 2010 the phenomenon occurred and has also been described in Wagga Wagga and London (ASCIA).
The science behind Thunderstorm Asthma is understood to be an interaction between climactic factors, air pollution and allergens.
In more detail:
Grass allergens can be found on the surface of the hundreds of starch granules within pollen grains.
When it rains or is humid, pollen grains can absorb moisture and burst, releasing hundreds of small allergenic particles that can penetrate deep into the small airways of the lung (ASCIA).
The massive load of small allergenic particles being inhaled straight into the lung can trigger asthma attacks in people even without previous asthma but who experience hayfever and are often found to be allergic to rye grass.
With 1 In 5 Australians experiencing hayfever and growing grass allergies predicted, then the risk of this phenomenom is something our community should be made urgently aware.
Especially because we know the prevalence of allergic disease respiratory + asthma has increased in recent years and is expected to rise.
Australian Allergy Centre, Doctor Suzie Bekir commented about Monday’s Thunderstorm Asthma attacks:
“I think Australians seriously underestimate air pollution and its effects on human health.
It’s interesting because the World Allergy Organisation this year was raising community awareness about this very issue: the rise in pollen allergy and the role of air pollution and climate change. There is good evidence now that suggests that urbanization, with its high levels of vehicle emissions, and a westernized lifestyle are linked to the rising frequency of allergic respiratory disease!
Which is why I think as a community we are going to need to plan ahead for allergy and expect to see more respiratory allergic diseases.
My best advice? If you are experiencing allergies, severe hayfever or respiratory concerns seek the assistance of an Allergy, ENT or Respiratory doctor for assessment.”
About the author:
Dr Bekir is the clinical director of Australian Allergy Centre and collective.care with allergy clinics located in Edgecliff, Bella Vista and Wollongong and believes in providing accessible specialist services in Allergy, ENT, Eyes, Skin Cancers and Laser and as such offer bulk billing.
1300 344 325
D’Amato G1, Liccardi G, D’Amato M, Holgate S. Environmental risk factors and allergic bronchial asthma.Clin Exp Allergy. 2005 Sep;35(9):1113-24.
D’Amato G1. Meteorological conditions, climate change, new emerging factors, and asthma and related allergic disorders. A statement of the World Allergy Organization 2016.