Thunderstorm asthma: When severe weather kicks up allergens
Warm temperatures in Louisville and Southern Indiana bring severe weather and a jump in allergens like pollen. For some, that may mean a risk of “thunderstorm asthma.”
Thunderstorm asthma occurs when strong winds and rain break pollen into tiny fragments that can slip past the body’s natural filters such as nasal hair and mucus and find their way to the lungs.
From springtime until the arrival of cold weather in in the Louisville area, it’s more important than ever to stay current on preventive medication, update asthma action plans and make sure those who could help you or your child in a crisis are aware of what to do.
While rain often can bring relief to those who experience allergy symptoms and asthma, thunderstorm asthma is a different phenomenon entirely.
“Researchers have found a unique weather pattern that can cause pollen to break down and enter the lungs more easily,” said Adrian R. O’Hagan, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist with Norton Children’s Pulmonology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “A thunderstorm produces downdrafts of cold air that concentrate and collect allergens before carrying them up high into the dark, humid clouds. It’s at these high altitudes that the pollen and mold spores break apart before falling back to Earth and finding their way into your respiratory system.
“With spring upon us, this is an additional reason to make sure that your asthma is well controlled, to take your controller medications as prescribed and to have access to your quick relievers”
Occasional mass outbreaks of thunderstorm asthma have erupted over the years around the world, with a catastrophic event in Melbourne, Australia, in 2016. Thousands of people experienced asthma attacks over a six-hour span that overwhelmed ambulance services, emergency rooms and pharmacies. Eight deaths were reported in the days following the outbreak.
If you have asthma or are prone to allergies or perhaps have undiagnosed asthma, be aware of how thunderstorms can make your symptoms worse and possibly trigger an attack. Consider restricting outdoor activities after a particularly severe thunderstorm.
Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness’ Open Airways class is held monthly to provide information about asthma, including triggers, symptoms and how to detect early warning signs. Register for an upcoming class taught by a certified American Lung Association educator at NortonChildrens.com/Classes&Events.