Rain and warm weather a health risk for asthma

Asthma grass pollen

According to Asthma Australia, grass pollen levels in some parts of the country have exceeded records with some describing the situation as the worst pollen on record, with Brisbane’s grass pollen season extending into autumn.

“It looks to be in the order of three to five times the total grass pollen seasonal load than we’ve seen in any previous years recorded anywhere in Australia ever before – the level at the end of January was 3.8 times the previous five-year average,” Professor Janet Davies, of the Queensland University of Technology School of Health, said.

This has prompted warnings to those with asthma to re-evaluate their asthma management plans.

Asthma Australia is advising anyone enduring asthma and hay fever symptoms, to re-evaluate their asthma management plans.

“With this spike in grass pollen in the air, many of those with poorly controlled asthma are at risk of asthma flare-ups, which can lead to hospitalisation and sometimes it can be fatal,” Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said.

“Asthma flare-ups cause nearly 39,000 hospitalisations annually, and our message for people with asthma is to consult with their doctor to help manage their condition all year round, to reduce the risks from unexpected events like this.”

High grass pollen can have wide-reaching and debilitating effects. These include sneezing, a runny nose, irritated eyes, a tight chest, difficulty breathing, and constant cough. Anyone experiencing hay fever combined with asthma should speak to their healthcare professional, says Asthma Australia.

How floods impact asthma

While the recent rain and warm weather are helping the grass to grow and contributing to elevated pollen numbers, it’s not the only area where it’s having an impact. As the clean-up continues following the devastating floods on the East Coast of Australia, something to consider is the health risk of floods and mould for asthma sufferers.

According to National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson, Professor Sheryl Van Nunen, the recent rain, high humidity, and warm temperatures provide a ripe environment for the growth and spread of toxic mould that can be damaging to health.

“When mould is present, small particles called spores are released in the air, which can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. The symptoms can include, nose, eye and skin irritation, coughing, sneezing, or wheezing and severe reactions in some people,” Professor Nunen said.

“Reducing the amount of moisture as soon as possible is the best way to control mould growth, so do a thorough clean and open all the doors and windows to dry out the area as quickly as possible. If you can, use fans or dehumidifiers to speed up the process.”

Professor Van Nunen says it is important to eliminate the source of mould growth, as well as cleaning visible mould, to stop it from regrowing.

“Unfortunately, bleach will remove visible mould but won’t kill the spores underneath and it may also irritate sensitive noses,” she said. “We recommend that everything that has been touched by floodwaters will need to go and this includes soft furnishings like carpets, floor underlays, mattresses, cushions and couches.”

Professor Nunen continued: “Depending on the extent of the flooding, some residents may be able to remove visible mould on hardwood furnishings by cleaning with naturally fermented white vinegar solution or other mould-reduction cleaners.”

“However, even if you have thoroughly cleaned your home, you can still have problems with mould. It can grow in places we don’t even think to look – walls, clothes, books and toys, so anything that has touched floodwater should ideally be removed and discarded safely,” she said.

To prevent and manage mould, the National Asthma Council advises the following steps:

  • Dry or remove wet carpets and furnishings as soon as you can.
  • Be ruthless with the cleanout, if possible – hidden damp can cause ongoing problems.
  • Consider using a dehumidifier to help dry out the space.
  • Remove any visible mould by cleaning with naturally fermented white vinegar solution.
  • Keep an eye out for mould in the unflooded areas of the house.
  • If you have concerns about asthma for yourself or a family member, see your health professional.

For more information on the impact of pollen and mould on asthma, visit: asthma.org.au

This article was originally published in the May issue of Retail Pharmacy magazine.