Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP host of The Dr Daliah Show
Six people have died and multiple people hospitalized after "Thunderstorm Asthma" struck people in Melbourne, Australia.
Last week a local storm hit the area and a massive asthma outbreak ensued. The storm, its 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. Six people have already died and 5 more are in intensive care units, three of whom in "critical condition". Multiple others have been hospitalized leaving the country in shock.
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:
- Cold air
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Acid reflux/heartburn
- 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...
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician
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