Gearing up for thunderstorm asthma season


By Tessa Hoffman

11 Sep 2017

With high-pollen season looming, GPs are urged to ensure all at-risk patients have taken the steps needed to avoid developing thunderstorm asthma.

The advice is issued by the National Asthma Council (NAC), which has released a series of resources to help GPs, practice nurses and pharmacists prepare patients ahead of high-pollen season which runs October 1 to December 31.

Included is a thunderstorm asthma information paper which calls for immediate and preventative treatment for patients with asthma and/or allergic rhinitis.

The paper takes learnings from last year’s thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne last November in which nine people died and thousands suffered breathing problems in the “thunderstorm asthma”, the product of a severe storm combined with an extreme pollen count.

Professor Amanda Barnard, chair of the NAC’s guidelines committee, reminded GPs to make sure patients have an up-to-date written asthma action plan and begin preventative medications as appropriate, before October 1.

About 4 in 5 people with asthma also have allergies such as pollen-related hay fever.

“The risk of thunderstorm asthma is highest in adults who are sensitised to ryegrass pollen, have allergic rhinitis (with or without known asthma), and are not taking an inhaled corticosteroid asthma preventer,” Professor Barnard said.

“The worst outcomes are seen in people with poorly controlled asthma.”

The prevention of thunderstorm asthma in primary care will include controlling asthma all year, which for most adults means regular use of inhaled corticosteroid preventers, she said.

Preventative treatment should be used for patients who are allergic to grass pollens and not taking regular medication – intranasal corticosteroids for allergic rhinitis and inhaled corticosteroids for asthma – ideally starting six weeks before high-pollen season begins.

At-risk patients should be advised to avoid being outdoors before and during thunderstorms for the duration of the season.

“There is also a need for patients to better understand their risks and how to protect themselves and others, including how to apply asthma first aid,” Professor Barnard said.

The NAC is offering free workshops, a webinar series and online learning modules for healthcare professionals about thunderstorm asthma.

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