It’s an old line: everyone complains about the weather but no one is doing anything about it.
But if you’re a person with bad allergies or asthma, stormy weather can be more than an annoyance; it can be a serious threat to your health. “Thunderstorm asthma” was first reported in the 1980s in England and Australia, and cases continue to crop up. Just after severe thunderstorms passed through Melbourne, Australia in 2016, more than 9,000 people sought urgent medical care for asthma during one notable event. Medical facilities were overwhelmed and at least eight people died. That’s unusual, but if you do have asthma — or seasonal allergies, as it turns out — understanding this trigger can help you stay well.
What is thunderstorm asthma?
The term describes an attack of asthma that starts or worsens after a thunderstorm. It can occur in anyone with asthma, but it most often affects people with seasonal allergic rhinitis, which many people know as hay fever or allergies. Heralded by a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes, seasonal allergies are often worst in the spring, summer, or early fall.
Rain tends to lower pollen counts by cleansing the air, and many people find that rainy weather tends to reduce asthma symptoms triggered by allergies. But thunderstorms can make asthma worse because of a unique sequence of events:
- Cold downdrafts concentrate air particles, such as pollen and mold
- These air particles are swept up into clouds where humidity is high
- In the clouds, wind, humidity, and lightning break up the particles to a size that can readily enter the nose, sinuses, and lungs
- Wind gusts concentrate these small particles so large amounts can be inhaled.
What raises risk for experiencing thunderstorm asthma?
According to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a whopping 144 out of 228 people with seasonal allergies reported experiencing thunderstorm asthma — that’s 65%! And many of the asthma attacks set off by thunderstorms weren’t mild. Nearly half of people who had an attack sought emergency hospital treatment.
Among people with seasonal allergies, risk factors for experiencing thunderstorm asthma include having
- poorly controlled asthma symptoms (assessed by a standard asthma questionnaire)
- a low score on a rapid exhalation test (a common breathing test for asthma)
- higher levels of a certain antibody (ryegrass pollen-specific IgE)
- higher numbers of certain blood cells (eosinophils, which tend to increase when people have allergic conditions)
- higher levels of exhaled nitric oxide (one measure of lung inflammation among people with asthma).
Not everyone with these risk factors will develop thunderstorm asthma. And even among those who do, asthma attacks won’t necessarily occur with every storm. But it may be useful to know if you’re among those at risk, especially if you live in an area where thunderstorms are common.
The bottom line
Thunderstorm asthma may seem like more of a curiosity than a serious threat to public health. But when it affects a large population area, emergency rooms can become overwhelmed, as happened during the 2016 Melbourne event. A better understanding of when these events are expected could lead to advanced warning systems, enhanced emergency room preparedness, and even preventive treatment.
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Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
2 Corinthians 13:9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more
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