Thunderstorm Asthma on the Rise

Believe it or not, thunderstorms can actually cause asthma attacks.  This phenomenon has been observed and mentioned in medical literature since 1983.  If atmospheric conditions are just right, thunderstorms can cause allergy particles in the atmosphere, especially grass pollen, to be broken down into smaller particles that are easily inhaled into the lungs.  Patients who are sensitive or allergic to these particles can suddenly developed severe asthma symptoms which can require hospitalization or even intensive care.

Thunderstorm asthma appears to be relatively rare with only 11 episodes reported worldwide in the last 35 years.  Some of the episodes reported did, however, effect hundreds or even thousands of patients. Only one of these reported episodes occurred in North America. 

During one epidemic in Australia, 116 of the 215 persons affected were tested and 111 had a positive skin test to grass pollen. The thunderstorm occurred during the grass pollen season.  Allergy to Alternaria mold has also been reported as a risk factor for thunderstorm asthma.

Airborne allergy particles are a relatively rare cause of acute, severe asthma attacks because particles are typically large and difficult to inhale into the lungs. When allergy particles in the atmosphere come in contact with electricity from lightning, the particles can be shattered into smaller pieces which can easily gain access to the small airways inside the lungs.  This has caused severe symptoms resulting in hospitalization and even fatalities.

Taking regular preventative asthma controller therapy as prescribed can help to prevent asthma exacerbations from any cause. Patients with asthma who are allergic to airborne pollens and mold are advised to stay inside with the windows closed during thunderstorms.

If you think you may have asthma or your asthma is uncontrolled, please give us a call to help you get the best treatment for your symptoms. We want you enjoying the weather, not hiding from it.

2 Comments
  1. Reply
    Michelle Polkey

    My son just had an asthma attack this week of unknown origin? We had to go to the walk in clinic as he couldnt breath all of a sudden. He had not felt this way in 4 years! We moved to charleston 4 years ago! Related?
    Michelle Polkey

    • Reply
      CharlestonAllergy

      Hi Michelle, we’re sorry to hear that he had an asthma attack! There are many different triggers of asthma exacerbations. It would be hard to confirm that this was the cause of your son’s asthma attack without a full history and exam. If you would like to schedule an appointment with our team of board-certified allergists we can go over any questions you may have and develop a personalized treatment plan for your son. You can schedule online here.

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