The National Asthma Council says the best defence that Australians with allergies and asthma can have as they head into thunderstorm asthma season is good control of their asthma each day.
NAC Australia Director and respiratory physician Professor Peter Wark says now is the time to check in with your GP and make sure you’re on the best treatment to control your asthma. People also need to know what to do during a spring thunderstorm or asthma emergency.
He suggests having good asthma control means using your preventer as prescribed, and not needing to use your reliever puffer more than a few times a week.
One in ten Australians affected
‘Australia has one of the highest prevalence rates of asthma in the world, with 2.7 million Australians affected by asthma, and we are now heading into peak thunderstorm asthma season, from 1 October until the end of December,’ said Professor Wark.
‘A La Niña event now under way in the Pacific Ocean will increase the likelihood of above-average rainfall during spring and summer in eastern Australia, which can lead to above average grass growth and critically, more ryegrass pollen in the air.
‘If you are allergic to ryegrass pollen, you could have a severe asthma attack if you are outside in gusty winds just before or during a thunderstorm in spring or early summer in a place where there is ryegrass pollen in the air, which includes most of south-eastern Australia,’ he said.
Thunder and lightning
Professor Wark said people with hay fever and allergy to ryegrass pollen may be at risk of thunderstorm asthma – even if they have never had asthma symptoms before.
‘Good asthma control is critical during thunderstorm asthma season, so keep taking your preventer medication as prescribed by your doctor,’ he said.
‘Most people with asthma over the age of six years should be using a preventer to keep their asthma under control. A blue reliever inhaler does not stop the inflammation that causes asthma and will not prevent an asthma attack.
‘If you need a reliever more than a couple of times a month, you should be taking a preventer and in spring and early summer (and if you are going to be in an area where there is ryegrass pollen) make sure you talk to your doctor,’ said Professor Wark.
What about hay fever?
Professor Wark advises that regular use of a nasal corticosteroid spray every day, at least during pollen season, is the best treatment to control allergy symptoms.
‘Hay fever can cause upper and lower airway inflammation and result in itchy watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, but even more concerning, hay fever can lead to an increased risk of serious asthma flare-ups,’ he said.
More thunderstorm asthma season tips
- Remember to take your inhaled corticosteroid ‘preventer’ medicine as prescribed by your GP.
- Always carry a ‘reliever’ puffer and replace it before the expiry date.
- Make sure your Written Asthma Action Plan is up to date and includes thunderstorm advice.
- Avoid being outdoors during thunderstorms in spring or early summer (especially in the wind gusts that come before the storm).
- If you can, stay indoors with your windows closed and the air conditioner off or on recirculation mode, or if driving, shut your car windows and only use recirculating air.
- Monitor the pollen counts and weather forecasts.
- Brush up on your asthma first aid – learn how to recognise and treat an asthma attack, including where to get a reliever quickly if needed (e.g. first aid kit or pharmacy).
‘Now is the right time to talk to your health professional to get the best advice about steps to take to reduce your risk of exposure to thunderstorms as well as critical asthma first aid procedures to follow during grass pollen season,’ said Professor Wark.
You can also check the pollen forecast daily, or download the Pollen Count app here.