Rare thunderstorm asthma kills 4 people in Australian city

Joy Montgomery
November 23, 2016

Ambulance Victoria won't confirm the reports because they say an official review is underway.

Thunderstorm asthma is triggered by a multitude of causes. And what should you do it you have it?

Earlier today, friends and family gathered at a Melbourne mosque to remember 18-year-old Omar Moujalled, who died in an ambulance en route to hospital on Monday night. The danger is thought to be due to small particles in pollen that get released in wet weather, then dispersed by strong winds. Rain broke down the pollen into smaller particles, making it easier to inhale.

"In normal circumstances the rye grass pollen can be trapped in the nose because it's a little bit larger".

"I have never seen anything remotely like it, in 25 years of working in pharmacy", pharmacist Peter O'Connor told Megan Haggan at AJP. Extreme days have 100-plus grass pollen grains per cubic metre of air.

Emergency crews took calls every four to five seconds. Two people also died in its wake.

The effects were felt by asthma sufferers and people with hay fever and pollen allergies. Staff at 24-hour Mill Park Superclinic described the night thunderstorm asthma hit Melbourne as like "a bomb had gone off".

"Stephenson said between 6pm-11pm, Victorian ambulances dealt with 1800 cases, many of which had respiratory issues from 'thunderstorm asthma". "Those most vulnerable are people with asthma which is not well controlled".

Hayfever sufferer
GETTYHayfever sufferers who do not have asthma can be affected by thunderstorms

"Unpredictable weather patterns and the impact on health I think is a new emerging frontier for public health risks", she said. "Previous episodes have seen around a 10-fold increase in asthma presentations to emergency".

"And there were many people who didn't know they had asthma who developed asthma for the first time last night as a outcome of the pollen".

"He had an asthma attack and there was nothing that could be done", Mr Saddoo told AAP. When a thunderstorm hits, pollen particles absorb moisture and fracture into tiny particles.

What does it feel like? Symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness of the chest and coughing. "It's very hard work, very tiring., and distressing".

Asthma is no fun at the best of times.

What should you do if you have it?

People with mild asthma, or who have never experienced an asthma attack, are often most affected because they are not actively taking treatment or have management plans.

Tim Lewis, owner and pharmacist at Southern Cross Amcal Pharmacy, said the pharmacy ran out of Ventolin on Tuesday morning, selling up to 60 inhalers in a few hours.

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