What is an Asthma Thunderstorm
Melbourne’s asthma thunderstorm in December caused respiratory havoc. In a five hour period, over 1900 emergency calls were made and proceeding the event almost 1000 people presented at hospitals around Melbourne with asthma or asthma-like symptoms. Many had never had asthma before. Some people even died from complications.
Grass pollen is too large to make it down into the inner and smaller branches of the lung as it usually gets filtered by the nose or is simply too large to make it that far. The thunderstorm high winds push dust and grass pollen ahead of it in high concentrations. The moisture causes the pollen grains to burst into hundreds of fragments small enough to penetrate deep into the airways. This results in respiratory irritation, coughing, asthma and hay fever.
Whilst asthma was the most serious symptom brought on by the thunderstorm, even more people have been affected by hay fever symptoms including itchy nose and eyes, sneezing, runny nose, sinus pressure and headaches for some and just altogether feeling awful in the head. Most of these symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to the pollen triggering a massive release of histamines by the mast cells of the immune system. Histamines cause vasodilation of the vessels (swelling of the blood vessels) and increase the permeability of vessels leading to swelling and inflammation. Histamines can make it difficult to breath by shrinking the airways in the lung. Also, histamines can cause inflammation in the gut leading to digestion problems and may exacerbate diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s or diverticulitis.
If your immune system is on the weak side, the body may overreact to the allergens creating an event more severe allergic reaction.