Thunderstorm Asthma Strikes Thousands

Medically Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD on November 28, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 28, 2016 – Six people died in the Australian city of Melbourne after a mass outbreak of “thunderstorm asthma,” according to media reports.

Emergency services were overwhelmed by 1,900 calls in the space of a few hours after the storm struck last Monday.

About 8,500 people were treated in hospitals. About a third of them never had asthma before, reports say.

Thunderstorm-aggravated asthma is caused by the effect a storm has on pollen, according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.

Humid, thundery weather draws pollen into the atmosphere, turning it into smaller particles.

When these smaller particles are breathed in, they are drawn deeper into the lungs, causing a greater degree of irritation and inflammation.

Why were so many people affected in Australia? It’s spring there, and springtime comes with high levels of pollen.

In Melbourne, levels of rye pollen were reported to be more than double the normal amount for this time of year, media reports say.

Some of those affected may not have suspected they were having an asthma attack if they had never been diagnosed with it.

While epidemics on the scale of that seen in Melbourne are not common, thunderstorm-aggravated asthma can happen during warmer months. Similar events have happened in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Italy, according to the Associated Press.

In the winter, a condition called exercise-induced asthma can trigger asthma-like symptoms when people work out in cold weather, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

WebMD Health News



Victoria State Government.

The Independent.

Associated Press.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Asthma UK.

Washington Post.

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.