#103 Thunderstorm asthma public health campaign

16 September 2019

Grass pollen season brings a seasonal increase in asthma and hay fever. It also brings the chance of epidemic thunderstorm asthma. 

Epidemic thunderstorm asthma events are thought to be triggered by a unique combination of high grass pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm with strong winds, causing a large number of people to develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time. Epidemic thunderstorm asthma events don't happen every year but when they do, they happen during grass pollen season, which is normally from October through December. 

Data from thunderstorm asthma epidemics suggest that the risk of asthma triggered by the particular thunderstorm is highest in adults who are sensitised to grass pollen and have seasonal allergic rhinitis (with or without known asthma). The worst outcomes are seen in people with poorly controlled asthma.

It is important for those with asthma or hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) to see their doctor or pharmacist to review their current medication, update their asthma action plan/hay fever treatment plan and learn asthma first aid. 

The Victorian Government has launched the 2019 public health campaign to ensure that all Victorians, and in particular people with asthma and/or hay fever, are as prepared as they can be should another epidemic thunderstorm asthma event occur. Community information is available on the Better Health Channel.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ thunderstorm asthma campaign resources including posters and a brochure, are available in 15 languages and can be downloaded from the DHHS website campaign toolkit. Alternatively, they can beordered at no cost using the link to the online order form on the toolkit page.

Visit the DHHS website for further information.

Additional resources are available for the general community, including sports and recreation groups, schools and workplaces from Asthma Australia. The Australian Asthma Handbook and a dedicated information paper on thunderstorm asthmais available from the National Asthma Council website. In addition, the RACGP, ACRRM, APNA and Pharmacy Guild have relevant educational materials available on each of their websites. 

The epidemic thunderstorm asthma forecast will be issued throughout the grass pollen season from 1 October to 31 December 2019. You can access the forecast via the VicEmergency website or app, the Health.Vic website or the Melbourne Pollen website or app.

The forecasting system is a tool that gives an indication of the risk of an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event. A high-risk forecast does not mean an epidemic thunderstorm asthma event is certain to occur, rather it should be considered seriously and those at risk and their families should be prepared. 

Similarly, the forecast may sometimes underestimate the risk. Given this, people should be prepared for a heightened risk of thunderstorm asthma throughout the grass pollen season and not rely solely upon the forecast. The forecast should not replace appropriate prevention and good asthma and hay fever management, which is the best way to protect yourself from thunderstorm asthma.

If you have further questions on thunderstorm asthma please call 1300 761 874 or email etsa@dhhs.vic.gov.au

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