Protecting against the storm ahead

Spring is the peak season for thunderstorm asthma to be triggered, meaning a seasonal increase in asthma and hay fever cases presenting within our pharmacies may be experienced. Patients should be educated about thunderstorm asthma and how they can manage their asthma during this season.

Thunderstorm asthma events are triggered by high grass pollen and certain types of thunderstorms, during which tiny pollen grains from grasses can be swept up in the wind and carried long distances. Pollen is then breathed in and can trigger asthma and asthma attacks.1

People with the highest risk of developing thunderstorm asthma are those sensitive to grass pollen and who have seasonal hay fever. Those affected by both hay fever and asthma can suffer severe asthma attacks during the grass pollen season. Also, those who experience wheezing or cough with their hay fever can be especially affected during this season.

People should watch out for symptoms and get tested for rye grass pollen allergy if they’re concerned, according to a media release from Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman.

“If in doubt, you should see a doctor and ask about thunderstorm asthma and how to get tested for rye grass allergy,” she said.2

Management 

Ensuring that patients have an asthma action plan or hay fever treatment plan in place is essential to ensure preparedness for treating their asthma and recognising when it’s getting worse.

Ms Goldman says that, additionally, being aware of asthma first aid is important in recognising when an asthma attack may be taking place.

“This season could bring many storms, so please learn asthma first aid and how to recognise an asthma attack,” she said

“Tight chest, difficulty breathing, gasping, wheezing, puffing when speaking, and persistent coughing are all signs someone can’t breathe well.”2

Treatment 

Having access to preventer and reliever medication during thunderstorm asthma season is vital to help control asthma symptoms and asthma attacks. Preventer medication works by averting asthma symptoms, while reliever medications are fast-acting medicines that work to relieve asthma symptoms caused by asthma triggers.3

“Asthma Australia strongly recommends anyone who suspects they have hay fever to discuss their symptoms with their doctor or pharmacist,” Ms Goldman said. “A few months of evidence-based preventer treatment could mean the difference between good health and a catastrophe.”2

High reliance on reliever medications means the symptoms of asthma are treated but not the cause. Therefore, the use of preventer medication is important.

National Asthma Council Australia Director and respiratory physician Professor Peter Wark emphasises that preventer medication should be taken for optimal asthma control.

“Good asthma control is critical during thunderstorm asthma season, so keep taking your preventer medication as prescribed by your doctor,” he advised.

“Most people with asthma over the age of six years should be using a preventer to keep their asthma under control. A blue reliever inhaler doesn’t stop the inflammation that causes asthma and will not prevent an asthma attack.

“If you need a reliever more than a couple of times a month, you should be taking a preventer, and in spring and early summer, and if you’re going to be in an area where there is ryegrass pollen, make sure you talk to your doctor.”

Intranasal corticosteroid sprays are important in the treatment of hay fever and work to reduce the symptoms of nasal inflammation, congestion and runny nose. When used regularly, intranasal corticosteroid sprays are effective in preventing swelling and mucus production.4

Professor Wark advises those affected by hay fever that regular use of a nasal corticosteroid spray every day, at least during pollen season, is the best treatment to control allergy symptoms.

“Hay fever can cause upper and lower airway inflammation and result in itchy watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, but even more concerning, hay fever can lead to an increased risk of serious asthma flare-ups,” he said.5

Learn more about asthma first aid: nationalasthma.org.au/asthma-first-aid 

References:

  1. Asthma Australia. ‘Asthma Triggers’. 2021. org.au/triggers/thunderstorm-asthma/
  2. Asthma Australia. ‘Find out if you are at risk of thunderstorm asthma’. 2022. org.au/about-us/media/find-out-if-you-are-at-risk-of-thunderstorm-asthma/
  3. Asthma Australia. ‘Medicines’. 2021. org.au/medicines/
  4. Australian Allergy Centre. ‘Nasal sprays and management of allergic and non-allergic rhinitis’. 2015. com.au/nasal-sprays-and-management-of-allergic-and-non-allergic-rhinitis/
  5. National Asthma Council. ‘Time to prepare for thunderstorm asthma’. 2022. nationalasthma.org.au/news/2022/time-to-prepare-for-thunderstorm-asthma

This feature was originally published in the November issue of Retail Pharmacy magazine

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