Thunderstorm Asthma – why you should have a plan

Thunderstorm Asthma

Thunderstorm asthma – we have all heard this term – but what is it and how do you know if it could happen to you?

Thunderstorm asthma is the triggering of asthma symptoms and attacks by storm weather conditions, in combination with high levels of seasonal allergens. The strong winds accompanying the storms sweep up allergens like pollen and types of grasses and distribute them over long distances with greater efficiency.

On 21 November 2016 in Victoria, extreme conditions led to an unprecedented thunderstorm asthma event. For some treated with asthma symptoms during this time, they had never experienced asthma before. Victorian hospital emergency departments were overwhelmed with thousands of calls to ambulance and health services in the space of only a matter of hours. The demand on emergency health services surged, and ultimately the epidemic caused 10 fatalities. All of the 10 who lost their lives had previously suffered from asthma, but only 3 of the 10 had an asthma action plan in place. This event was globally the most catastrophic thunderstorm asthma event ever seen. We now know that people who have never experienced asthma before can get thunderstorm asthma due to this rare weather phenomenon, and those most at risk are:

  • current or past asthma sufferers, including undiagnosed asthma
  • hay fever sufferers who have never experienced asthma
  • hay fever sufferers who also experience asthma.

The most commonly noted symptoms of thunderstorm asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and persistent cough.

Hay fever season is set to peak between November and the end of December this year and this is the highest risk period of thunderstorm asthma for hay fever sufferers.

Tips to reduce your risk

  • If you suffer from asthma, ensure you are managed by your GP and have a current asthma action plan organized.
  • If you suffer from hay fever, chat with your doctor about preventative treatment options.
  • Stay informed about pollen levels and weather forecasts using tools like Pollen Forecast 
  • Stay indoors on days with extreme weather conditions, or if you go out and travel by car, set your air conditioning to recirculate, so you are not inhaling pollens and allergens from the outside air.

Worried sick? Call or click 13SICK

If you or someone in your family experience symptoms of asthma or thunderstorm asthma and you are concerned, you should visit your GP. If it is at night or over the weekend, and your GP is closed, you can call 13SICK (that’s 13 7425) or use the 13SICK App to arrange a bulk billed*, after-hours doctor home visit.
* if eligible for Medicare rebates

In an emergency, dial 000.

Sources:, The November 2016 Victorian epidemic thunderstorm asthma event: an assessment of the health impacts The Chief Health Officer’s Report”, 27 April 2017

National Asthma Council Australia

Asthma Australia