Migrants from India and Southeast Asia are the highest risk group for “thunderstorm asthma”, according to a recent report.
Thunderstorm asthma is a major respiratory problem which affects some people, and can be fatal. It occurs when stormy winds and moist air cause large grass pollen to break into very tiny pieces, small enough to be inhaled.
The time of highest risk is between 1 October and 31 December. In 2016 there were 2,000 emergency calls for ambulances in three hours. Ten Victorians died from it, and hundreds were hospitalised.
A survey by Asthma Australia showed that 4 in 10 people affected in the 2016 epidemic did not have a previous history of asthma. Of the ten who died, six were originally from India or Southeast Asia.
A major study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal in June says that while people of Asian or Indian ethnicity make up 25% of the Melbourne population, 39% of hospital admissions were from this group.
Dr Naghmeh Radhakrishna, a respiratory, sleep and allergy specialist at Melbourne’s St. Vincent’s hospital, told SBS News that Asian people generally have a low prevalence of hay fever and asthma, but that increases after they move to Australia. This may be because they were not previously exposed to allergens like ryegrass, which is very common in southeastern Australia.
Anyone with asthma symptoms should contact a doctor to make an asthma action plan, keep a Ventolin or Asmol inhaler handy, and stay indoors during forecast danger periods.
The government operates a thunderstorm asthma forecast system during the danger period, combining the forecasting of a certain uncommon type of thunderstorm and grass pollen counts.
For translated information visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au, type “Thunderstorm Asthma” in the Search box, and choose your language from the dropdown menu.