Thunderstorm Asthma: How to Be Prepared

in Asthma, Basics

Photo: Getty
In addition to these tips, see the Allergic Living feature: Thunderstorm Asthma: From When and Why It Happens, To Risks with Pollen Allergies

While a normal rainfall helps allergy sufferers, a thunderstorm can draw pollens into clouds where they will rupture in the high humidity. The tiny pollen fragments pose more of a problem for those with sensitive airways than whole pollen particles. From Melbourne to Atlanta, thunderstorms have been implicated in infrequent but severe outbreaks of asthma attacks.

Dr. Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, an allergy and asthma specialist in Maryland, offers tips on how to manage your asthma in order to avoid falling prey to thunderstorm asthma or sometimes called thunder fever.

Start with Control

Sabet says managing a chronic disease means doing “maintenance activity,” starting with the asthma medication that your doctor has prescribed. This often will include a daily controller medication.

“If you know you have asthma, you should be taking care of it on a day-in, day-out basis,” says Sabet, noting that controller medication helps to control inflammation.

“It decreases swelling, so that when you get into a dangerous situation of exposure to a significant trigger, you’re starting from a much better place,” she says. “You’re not starting from a swollen or injured place.”

Check your Control

The Asthma Control Test, which can be taken online, is a questionnaire that helps both the patient and doctor determine if asthma symptoms are under control.

“It sets parameters,” Sabet says. “It talks about things like can you sleep through the night or do you wake up coughing? Can you get your daily activities done or do you have to stop because you have shortness of breath. How often are you using your rescue inhaler?”

Sabet warns patients: “if you’re using up your reliever inhaler in a year, then by definition your asthma is out of control.” That’s when it’s time to see your doctor to ensure you have an appropriate Asthma Action Plan for your level of asthma.

Pollen Count

Pollen can trigger asthma symptoms and during a thunderstorm, pollen grains may rupture in high humidity. Strong downdrafts can then spread these tiny pollen fragments widely, which increases the risk of asthma attack, sometimes even in those with poorly controlled allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

If there is a thunderstorm expected in your region, check the pollen count online.

How to be Ready

Regular rainfall is good with allergies, keeping pollens on the ground. But what can should you if there’s a possibility of a big thunderstorm?

“Is the answer to tell people to stay inside or is the answer to make sure their asthma is well-controlled?” questions Sabet. In most cases, “if their asthma is well-controlled at all times, then they would be able to withstand an onslaught of a violent thunderstorm.”

Know the signs and triggers of your asthma. If you start developing symptoms during a thunderstorm, follow your asthma action plan. Seek medical care if your asthma symptoms become severe.

Read more:
Wild Weather and Our Allergies and Asthma
Allergic Living’s Guide to Asthma