21 November 2019
Smoke sparks fresh concerns on epidemic thunderstorm asthma anniversary
We’re alerting Victorians that along with possible bushfires, dangerous heat and wind, tomorrow (Thursday) may also bring extreme pollen levels – putting lives at risk from asthma.
On the third anniversary of the deadly thunderstorm asthma event that claimed 10 lives, Victorians are being warned about a “perfect storm” of asthma triggers tomorrow and throughout the bushfire season – as very high pollen, smoke haze and thunderstorms can all trigger asthma.
The University of Melbourne’s pollen count forecast for tomorrow is extreme while the Department of Health’s thunderstorm asthma forecast for Thursday is moderate for all Victorian districts except East Gippsland (low).
NAC Chief Executive, Siobhan Brophy says smoke from bushfires posed a severe danger to people with asthma.
‘People do not need to be in the immediate area of a fire to suffer from the effect of smoke on their lungs. Wherever smoke haze is visible, it is a threat to those with asthma,’ says Ms Brophy.
Ms Brophy says a high price had been paid and tragic lessons learned about prevention and awareness following Victoria’s epidemic thunderstorm asthma event, which resulted in thousands of people presenting to emergency departments, general practices and pharmacies with breathing difficulties on 21 November 2016.
‘With Victoria on alert with a high bushfire risk, high pollen count and moderate thunderstorm asthma warning, today’s anniversary is a reminder that the risk is real. Any serious asthma attack can be life-threatening and have devastating consequences.
‘Thunderstorm asthma does not just occur in people with asthma, it affects those who have an allergic reaction to the grains in the air,’ says Ms Brophy. ‘One in five Australians have hay fever and many do not know they could be at risk of having an asthma attack during a thunderstorm asthma event.’
At-risk Victorians should avoid being outside during fires and storms, especially during windy weather, and should carry their asthma reliever with them at all times.
‘It’s crucial to watch out for asthma attack signs such as difficulty breathing or talking, a feeling of not being able to get enough air into your lungs, or constant coughing or wheezing.
People with asthma should follow their written asthma action plan (if they have one) and the first aid steps for asthma. If symptoms get worse, call an ambulance.
If you are having breathing difficulties but have not been diagnosed with asthma before, the NAC advises you to follow the first aid steps for asthma if you can. You can head to your nearest doctor or pharmacist immediately and ask for help. If that is not possible or your breathing is getting worse, call Ambulance Victoria on 000.
‘More importantly people at risk should see their doctor or pharmacist now for prevention measures and to make sure their asthma action plan is up to date,’ says Ms Brophy.