"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Thunderstorm asthma could turn out to be more common with climate change

March 5, 2024 – Thunderstorm asthma can strike without much warning, leaving individuals with the symptoms of an asthma attack as or after the dark clouds pass.

If you will not be familiar, you're in danger for a Thunderstorm asthma attack grows when severe storms occur on a day with very high pollen or spore counts. The storm lifts these particles, adding water and causing them to blow up into smaller grains. Electrical activity in a storm can do the identical thing. Strong winds then sweep these particles down and across the bottom. People within the storm's path may experience shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

If climate change is predicting that thunderstorms will turn out to be more frequent and severe, does the identical apply to thunderstorm asthma?

“Yes, if only because pollen levels appear to be increasing in many areas due to climate change,” said Frank S. Virant, MD, chief of allergy at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Most cases of thunderstorm asthma occur in spring and early summer, but that would change, too. The pollen season “has become longer and more intense,” he said Shaan M. Waqar, MD, allergist at ENT and Allergy Associates in Plainview, NY.

“Thunderstorm asthma events are rare, but our changing environment and increasing number of people with allergies could make such events more common and severe in the future,” agreed Paul J. Beggs, PhD, Associate Professor within the School of Natural Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

How to attenuate your risk

If you're sensitive to pollen, it is best to proceed to watch levels outdoors, especially during tree, grass and weed pollen season, recommends Virant. Also concentrate to weather reports. Watch out for thunderstorms that would “increase pollen exposure with winds exceeding 40 miles per hour and often colder air downdrafts.” Cold weather is a further asthma trigger, he noted.

People with asthma should attempt to stay indoors with windows and doors closed during a severe thunderstorm and for several hours afterward. UAir filters also can help reduce risk, said Dr. Deepti V. Manian, an allergist and immunologist at Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, Kansas.

Continue control therapies — comparable to longer-acting inhalers and allergy medications — and use a rescue inhaler or nebulizer to treat symptoms immediately, advisable Donald J. Dvorin, MD, of The Allergy and Asthma Doctors in Mount Laurel, NJ. Ideally, people looking for shelter indoors during storms needs to be “accompanied by friends or family members who can help them get to a hospital quickly if necessary.”

Asthma diagnosis not required

Even individuals who wouldn't describe themselves as asthmatics could be severely affected. For example, individuals with hay fever, or allergic rhinitis as additionally it is called, are also in danger, said Ajay Kevat, MBBS, MPH, of the respiratory department at Queensland Children's Hospital in Brisbane, Australia.

People with hay fever also can experience more severe symptoms during and after thunderstorms. Optimal treatment of allergic rhinitis during pollen season with non-sedating antihistamines and nasal steroids could also be helpful, Virant said, reasonably than “chasing symptoms with medication after they are already severe.”

Part of the challenge is linking severe weather to worse asthma symptoms. “In my experience, there is a lack of awareness about thunderstorm asthma,” Manian said. For example, individuals with non-allergic rhinitis, also often called vasomotor rhinitis, also can result in the results. “Many of my patients are often surprised when I introduce the concept of vasomotor rhinitis, which can be triggered by environmental fluctuations.”

Collect clouds, collect evidence

Climate change could also change which Americans experience essentially the most storms. Researcher in a single Study from June 2022 predicted fewer storms within the Southern Plains and more storms within the Midwest and southeastern United States in the longer term.

Dvorin practices in southern New Jersey, and on this area “we are fortunate not to experience thunderstorm-induced asthma exacerbations,” he said.

But climate change signifies that thunderstorm asthma could appear in the longer term in places which have never existed before, said Kevat, who wrote one Review article on thunderstorm asthma published online in June 2020 within the Asthma and Allergy Journal.

And this isn't just an issue within the United States. Severe thunderstorm asthma events have been reported in Italy, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. In November 2016, for instance, severe storms swept across Melbourne, Australia. Temperatures dropped by 10°C (about 18°F), humidity rose to over 70%, and particulate matter comparable to pollen became more concentrated within the air.

This event triggered a “thunderstorm asthma epidemic.” unprecedented scale“pace, as well as geographic scope and severity,” Beggs and colleagues wrote of their June 2018 report The Lancet Planetary Health.

Major events like this could affect entire communities and quickly overwhelm local health resources. Within 30 hours of the storms in Melbourne, 3,365 more people than usual went to the local emergency department with respiratory problems – and 476 with asthma were taken to hospital. Ten people died: five in hospital and five couldn't be resuscitated or died while waiting for emergency services.

More research is required “to best prepare for this unpredictable, significant threat to public health,” Kevat wrote.

People whose asthma is triggered by pollen or mold spores are particularly liable to developing thunderstorm asthma, Waqar said. If you're unsure, an allergist can provide help to diagnose and treat your allergy risks.

Stronger thunderstorms are only one among the triggers for asthma linked to climate change. Last summer, Canadian wildfires spread smoke across the northern United States and triggered widespread asthma exacerbations. See this WebMD slideshow Learn more about how rain, humidity, and seasonal weather changes also can cause asthma problems.