Thunderstorm asthma: Early warning system reveals where the danger lurks

Today’s warning of a moderate risk of thunderstorm asthma in north-central Victoria. See it at: www.emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#

By BILAL AHMED SYED

Have you seen the thunderstorm asthma warnings?

Victoria’s new early warning system has been working hard in just its first month of operation. Today north-central Victoria – centred on Bendigo and Shepparton – continued to face a moderate risk of the condition, after several days of warnings. 

The system came into operation on September 30, a promise from the Government after an outbreak last November’s devastating incident left 10 people dead and thousands in hospital.

Those deaths, and the adequacy of the emergency response, are being examined by the Coroner’s Court, in an inquiry that began last week. 

Victoria’s warning system will run until the end of the year, providing an estimated three-day warning of a risk of thunderstorm asthma.

According to Health Victoria, the Government has spent $15 million to ensure better prediction and response to the thunderstorm asthma.

Thunderstorm asthma is caused when there is a mix of high pollen, a type of thunderstorm and warm weather. Symptoms include coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing.

Barbara Nagaiya
Barbara Nagaiya suffers from t thunderstorm asthma.

Barbara Nagaiya, 71, who suffers from thunderstorm asthma, recommends everyone to stay indoors if a storm hits, and to carry an inhaler if you have to go out.

“It has affected my daily life in many ways … since it has started again this year I am more tired and feel very very weak,” Ms Nagaiya said.

She said that having nausea and wheezing feelings every day is not something to look forward to, especially when you have so many things to do.

The 71-year-old says walking her dog, watering the garden, and running her radio show on 3WBC 94.1FM are some of the activities she has had to put on hold.

Asthma Australia said people who did not have a history of asthma could also be affected. 

Dr Majid Naeem, an associate medical director and chair of the The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria International Medical Graduates Committee, said people should stay indoors if the forecast included a thunderstorm and a high or extreme pollen count.

“What seems to be the problem is that people have things to do and to complete them they have no choice but to go out in the thunderstorm weather, which puts them at risk,” Dr Naeem said.

He said those who did not have a choice about going out should wear face masks, carry inhalers in their pockets, and put the emergency number on speed dial. 

Embed from Getty Images

A thunderstorm strikes Melbourne, potentially causing a thunderstorm asthma problem.

Dr Naeem said he had seen many patients with mild to severe thunderstorm asthma in the emergency room.

“It is absolutely crucial that people get as much knowledge as they can on it and know the symptoms so that they can act on the issue fast,” he says.

The Government has partnered with the Bureau of Meteorology to create and launch the  new thunderstorm asthma forecasting system, which is the first of its kind globally.

The system is known as Vic Emergency and shows signs of any incident or predicted environmental problem that may arise.