Having difficulty in breathing? Here’s what you need to know about thunderstorm asthma

A mild asthma attack can last just about a few minutes, but stronger ones can go on for hours or even days and require serious medical intervention.

Breathing is the most basic essentiality that we need to be alive but at times due to outside sources or internal reasons even that can become a struggle. One such situation arises in the case of thunderstorm asthma which is a weather-based condition that can turn wind and pollen into a dangerous combination.

A person is told to have asthma when the person’s airways become inflamed, narrow, swollen and produce extra mucus, leading to a struggle while breathing. Asthma is known to affect a person’s bronchial tubes, where the air goes in and out of the lungs. When a person gets an asthma attack, bronchial tubes narrow and that creates difficulty in breathing. A mild asthma attack can last just about a few minutes, but stronger ones can go on for hours or even days and require serious medical intervention.

A study Thunderstorm-triggered asthma: what we know so far published in J Asthma Allergy journal said, “Thunderstorm-triggered asthma (TA) is the occurrence of acute asthma attacks immediately following a thunderstorm. Epidemics have occurred across the world during pollen season and have the capacity to rapidly inundate a health care service, resulting in potentially catastrophic outcomes for patients. TA occurs when specific meteorological and aerobiological factors combine to affect predisposed patients. Thunderstorm outflows can concentrate aeroallergens, most commonly grass pollen in TA, at ground level to release respirable allergenic particles after rupture by osmotic shock related to humidity and rainfall”.

How does thunderstorm asthma occur

While thunderstorm asthma occurs when heavy storms happen on a day when the pollen count is very high and triggers the symptoms of an asthma attack. Pollen grains get absorbed in the storm clouds. Once these grains suck in a certain amount of water, they pop, forming even smaller grains which then get into the wind at ground level and can easily be breathed, in leading to asthma attacks.

“Thunderstorm asthma can occur suddenly in people, mostly during spring or summer when the pollen quantity in the air is very high and the weather is hot, dry, windy and stormy. This is so because as explained earlier the thunderstorm weather in spring can make pollen grains burst into tiny pieces that are further blown around us by the wind. When people end up breathing these tiny pieces of pollen they can penetrate deep inside the lungs and trigger an asthma attack”, said Dr Hirenappa Udnur, Consultant – Pulmonology, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal.

People who already have asthma and/or have a fever (allergy leading to itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other similar symptoms) need to be extra careful to avoid thunderstorm asthma attacks. They must stay informed and be prepared in consultation with their doctors like they could use their preventer medicine every day and keep a reliever inhaler (blue puffer) ready with them at all times.

Thunderstorm asthma often hits adults who are already affected by asthma or are allergic to grass pollen. But it can cause problems for people even without these pre-existing conditions. People who wheeze and sneeze with hay fever from pollens during spring are more likely to get thunderstorm asthma even if they haven’t had asthma before.

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