Woman experiencing asthmaBecause rain removes pollens from the air, asthma patients prefer the wet seasons. For others, however, heavy rains and strong winds worsen the symptoms. Experts call the phenomenon where extreme weather causes asthma attacks “thunderstorm asthma.”

In some cases, the condition could be fatal. In fact, an episode of thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne, Australia led to 8500 emergency asthma visits and 9 deaths. This prompted researchers to determine its causes and consider possible solutions.

The Rise of Thunderstorm Asthma

Florida-allergy.com, an allergy and asthma center in South Florida, says that allergens like pollens trigger asthma attacks. In most cases, rain acts as a natural pollen filter in the air. But thunderstorms put more pollen in the air as they sweep up large grass pollen grains in their cloud bases.

Rainfall and high humidity break the pollen down to smaller pieces while the cold air brings them back to ground level. People then inhale these smaller grains, triggering symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.

Frequency of Thunderstorm Asthma

Dr. Janet Davies, head of Allergy Research at the Queensland University of Technology, assured people that these episodes do not happen every time there is a storm and high grass pollen count in the area. Wind patterns, changes in temperature and humidity, type of grass, timing, and intensity of grass pollination all determine whether a thunderstorm asthma episode is underway. Despite knowing the factors, experts cannot accurately predict when an attack would occur.

Prevention for People at Risk

During thunderstorms, people with poorly controlled asthma are the ones at risk. Having a rhinovirus infection or sensitivity to allergens also raises the odds of an episode. To mitigate risks, Dr. Davies advised patients to follow their prescriptions and prepare an asthma action plan.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gennaro D’Amato, chairman of the World Allergy Organization Committee on Climate Change and Biodiversity, said that people with asthma must be prepared whenever there’s a thunderstorm approaching. He proposed an alert system which warns high-risk patients of the inclement weather through texts and emails.

There’s only so many people can do. After all, people can control neither weather nor the amount of pollen in the air. The best way to protect one’s self is to be prepared and take good care of our respiratory health.