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Thunderstorm Asthma Risks Rise During Monsoon Season

Written by Dr. Daliah Wachs
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While monsoon season brings shifts in temperatures, it also brings heavy winds and thunderstorms.

Yet for an asthmatic this can be exceptionally dangerous.

“Thunderstorm Asthma” is a term used when a very windy storm can induce an asthmatic attack.

Last year, nine people died in Melbourne, Australia after a thunderstorm precipitated respiratory difficulties.

 

The storm, it’s believed, caused pollen particles to swell and rupture into much smaller particles, which were dispersed by wind.  The theory is that the immediate propulsion of much smaller (and more numerous) particles into one’s lungs was the recipe for asthma disaster.

 

We first learned of “thunderstorm asthma” in the 1980’s when epidemics occurred in parts of Europe, Australia and Iran. Environmental conditions change and asthma allergens meet the unsuspecting lungs.

Asthma is a respiratory condition in which inflammation causes the airways to narrow, restricting air flow and causing wheezing, shortness of breath and cough.  This bronchoconstriction can be deadly if the patient doesn’t receive enough oxygen. Bronchodilators, such as albuterol are used to dilate the airways and steroids are commonly given to decrease the inflammation.

 

If someone has baseline asthma, a storm forecast should warrant preparatory measures, including ensuring one has plenty of inhalers, and seeing their provider to determine if they are vulnerable to “tipping over”.  Many feel a false sense of security with rain as they believe it will wash away the dust.  As Melbourne witnessed, a thunderstorm can be just as deadly.

 

A variety of factors can cause asthma attacks including:

 

Pollen

Smoke

Alcohol

Cold air

Dust mites

Mold

Pet dander

Exercise

Laughing

Stress

Acid reflux/heartburn

Aspirin

Air fresheners, perfume, scents

Traffic and pollution

 

and more.

 

As we see, asthma is not solely caused by a Spring time flower particle. A variety of issues can trigger an attack.  If its sudden, unexpected, stressful and carries a concentrated variety of particles, this combination can be deadly.  Hence “thunderstorm asthma” can be a lung’s perfect storm…….

 

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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.