Asthma is an upper respiratory disease characterized by attacks of wheezing and breathlessness. Over 339 million people worldwide have asthma. Many asthma attacks have an underlying trigger, such as pollen, dust, pet dander, exercise, or some sort of lung irritant. But one surprising trigger can be thunderstorms. Yes, really. Check this out.
Thunderstorm asthma is a condition that occurs when the weather components come together in a particular way. The atmosphere, including temperature changes, humidity and wind patterns, create a perfect storm (ha!) for allergy sufferers. Everything has to interact simultaneously, including the type of grass, trees and intensity of pollination.
But when these weather conditions occur during or shortly after a thunderstorm, trees and grasses can suddenly release pollen into the air. This is considered a hyper-potent pollen release. When the airwaves pushed by the storm and carrying these concentrated pollens reach asthma sufferers, it can hit them hard, leaving a potentially deadly attack in its wake.
Signs of thunderstorm asthma are similar to regular asthma. There may be a tightening or constriction of the airways. It may be difficult to breathe, and then, owing to the pollens or other pollutants kicked up by the storm, there may be irritation of the eyes and skin.
If respiratory distress comes on during a thunderstorm, it's important to turn to prescribed meds, like an inhaler, right away. With a thunderstorm asthma attack, symptoms may come on strong and fast, so don't wait. Upon learning that this could happen, be sure to have an asthma action plan and stick to it. Delays can increase the risk of serious consequences.
Many people have never heard of thunderstorm asthma. In fact, areas of Australia seem to have the only reported incidents. That doesn't mean it can’t occur elsewhere, but it hasn’t yet been documented in the United States.
It all depends on the atmosphere coming together to form the perfect storm for distributing pollen through the air that can trigger a stronger than usual reaction.
Some people with asthma experience respiratory distress during thunderstorms just due to atmospheric pressure. But if they are outside before, during or after, pollen and other irritants can collect on clothing. The best thing to do is remove and wash all clothing immediately to reduce the possibility of exposing the lungs to allergens or carrying them through personal areas like the home or car.
Asthma is a dangerous medical condition that can swiftly turn deadly. So though it's relatively common, it should never be taken lightly. And in the case of storms, unlike a normal high allergen alert, debris is tossed through the air, where it can form a more dense cloud of pollen. Coming in contact with high concentrations of pollen or other allergens can prove deadly for some individuals. So know your risk and have a plan. It’s important to visit an allergist regularly to ensure proper treatment of asthma and allergies and to have medication on hand if needed. Keep all medications updated so you're not relying on an expired inhaler to save your life in an emergency. Understanding how thunderstorm asthma works helps us stay informed about our health and take preventative measures for all kinds of asthma attacks even if it's not common where e live at this time.
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