Thunderstorm Asthma: Strong Winds, Electrical Activity Trigger Asthma Outbreaks

HealthDay News — Thunderstorms can trigger asthma outbreaks, according to a study published online in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

For example, a 2016 thunderstorm asthma outbreak in Australia occurred when high grass pollen concentrations were dispersed by strong winds. This resulted in multiple deaths and a surge of people seeking medical help for breathing problems.

The authors of the new study explained that rainfall and high humidity rupture pollen particles. Thunderstorm electrical activity further fragments the particles. And strong winds can spread pollen ahead of the storm. A combination of several of these factors can lead to asthma outbreaks.

“Thunderstorm asthma is a very complex phenomenon and involves interactions of allergens like grass pollens, thunderstorms, and susceptible groups of people,” lead author Andrew Grundstein, PhD, a professor of geography at the University of Georgia in Athens, said in a university news release. “Our study may help anticipate significant thunderstorms by employing a technique that helps identify wind magnitudes commonly associated with thunderstorm asthma outbreaks.”

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Grundstein A, Shepherd M, Miller P, Sarnat SE. The role of mesoscale-convective processes in explaining the 21 November 2016 epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne, Australia [published online May 3, 2017]. J Appl Meteorol Clim. doi:10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0027.1