The peak thunderstorm asthma season is expected to begin on October 1 and run until the end of December.
With a hotter and drier spring forecast, Ambulance Victoria emergency management director Justin Dunlop said he had been advised conditions were “very similar” to 2016.
In November 2016, Melbourne experienced the world’s largest epidemic thunderstorm asthma event, overwhelming emergency services and leading to 10 deaths.
Among those affected by the epidemic were people with seasonal hayfever who had not ever had asthma.
During a thunderstorm asthma event, tiny pollen grains from grasses are swept up into the wind and carried over long distances.
When these airborne pollen particles are inhaled, they can penetrate deep into the lungs, triggering asthma flare-ups or attacks.
In preparation for the season, the ambulance service has reviewed its thunderstorm asthma plan, restocked respiratory medication and equipment across the state and put staff through an emergency exercise.
“If you have mild hayfever, a little bit of trouble breathing, go and talk to your local doctor, make sure you’ve got a plan and follow your plan,” Mr Dunlop said.
Asthmatics can also avoid being outdoors during thunderstorms in spring or early summer, monitor pollen counts and weather forecasts, and always carry their reliever puffer.
Goulburn Valley Public Health Unit clinical director Will Cross also urged people with asthma or breathing problems to take extra precautions.
“If you have asthma or suffer from seasonal asthma, make sure you have an up-to-date asthma action plan and are proactively managing your symptoms with advice from your general practitioner,” Dr Cross said.
People are at higher risk of experiencing a sudden asthma flare-up triggered by a thunderstorm if they:
- Experience seasonal hayfever.
- Have current asthma.
- Have a history of asthma.
- Have undiagnosed asthma.
To reduce the risk of thunderstorm asthma when it is a known trigger, the GVPHU strongly recommends maintaining good asthma management year-round.
Here are some essential steps to take:
- Use preventative medication: If you have been prescribed a preventer inhaler, use it as directed, especially during the spring thunderstorm season.
- Keep hayfever under control: Consult with your healthcare provider to manage your seasonal hayfever effectively, as this can exacerbate your asthma during thunderstorm events.
- Keep up to date with pollen levels: Keep an eye on pollen level forecasts, which can be found through the VicEmergency website and app from October 1. If possible, try to stay indoors on days when pollen levels are high.
- Be prepared: Ensure you have all the necessary medications and tools to manage your asthma and hayfever during thunderstorm and pollen seasons. This includes having your asthma action plan up-to-date and inhalers, antihistamines and other prescribed medications readily available.