Ways to manage and treat thunderstorm asthma – and how the symptoms compare to COVID-19
Spring has sprung! But as the weather slowly begins to warm up, there’s an increased risk of outbreaks of thunderstorm asthma. These can occur when typical spring conditions – hot, dry, windy and stormy weather – cause pollen grains to break into tiny pieces. If you breathe in these pieces, they can get deep into your lungs and lead to an asthma attack.
Symptoms are similar to asthma symptoms, but they’re more intense. They can include breathlessness, a tight feeling in the chest, wheezing and coughing. These symptoms can also escalate quickly and dangerously.
The highest risk period is from October to December, and you’re not only at risk when there’s a storm – thunderstorm asthma can occur on hot and windy days too.
Who’s at risk?
If you suffer from asthma or hay fever, you’re at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma. But it can also affect anyone – even if you’ve never experienced symptoms of asthma or hay fever before.
Is it asthma/hay fever – or COVID-19?
The presence of coronavirus presents an extra challenge this thunderstorm asthma season. While symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose and cough are common indicators of hay fever, they’re also linked to COVID-19. If you usually suffer from asthma or hay fever, ask yourself if there’s any difference between your usual reactions and any other symptoms that could be viral in nature.
In a recent article, Dr John Blakey, respiratory clinician and medical adviser to Asthma Australia, highlighted the key differences, including the way symptoms change over time. While hay fever is usually triggered by something in the environment, and symptoms of both asthma and hay fever tend to come and go, the symptoms of a virus will generally worsen over time.
Dr Blakey says that regular sufferers of asthma or hay fever should take note of any changes to their usual patterns of symptoms, and seek medical assistance if something seems different to normal. It’s also important to get on top of any asthma symptoms early, so other problems like COVID-19 are easier to spot.
Asthma Australia has more information about what COVID-19 means for people with asthma.
And remember: if you’re unsure about your symptoms or you’re feeling unwell, make sure you get tested for COVID-19 straight away.
How can I prevent and treat thunderstorm asthma?
It’s best to speak to a doctor if you’re experiencing new symptoms and want advice – free telehealth appointments are now available at the Deakin Medical Centre.
You should also educate yourself, know the triggers and symptoms, and have an action plan if needed:
- Be aware of thunderstorm forecasts – download the VicEmergency app from Google Play or the App Store and set up a ‘watch zone’ for your location to receive updates and warnings of oncoming storms. You can also check the Victorian three-day epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecast by region.
- Check the pollen count forecast – Deakin AIRwatch is a pollen-counting and forecasting service that provides the pollen count at our Burwood and Waurn Ponds campuses from 1 October to 31 December each year. Melbourne Pollen provides other pollen count and forecast sites in Melbourne and around Victoria.
- If a storm is coming, stay inside, close all doors and windows, and turn your air conditioner off.
- In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) or be ready to administer asthma first aid.
Where can I get more information?
Visit the National Asthma Council Australia, Better Health Channel or Asthma Australia.