Thunderstorm Asthma: What You Need To Know About The Deadly Disease

First Posted: Nov 29, 2016 04:04 AM EST

In Australia's bizarre outbreak, a freak illness called thunderstorm asthma has now killed at least six and sent thousands to hospitals in the country.

The sixth victim, who had been in critical condition after suffering from medical complications, died at Eastern Health hospital on Nov. 26. Up to date, three others are in critical condition while 12 more patients remain in hospitals, officials said as reported by ABC News.

What Is Thunderstorm Asthma?

With more than 8,000 people treated at various hospitals in Australia since Nov. 21, this disease is not as ordinary as it sounds. Usually, thunderstorm asthma occurs when a storm hits during a period of strangely high pollen and high humidity, causing the grains to break up and disperse. As a result, they enter the lungs of people, making it hard for them to breathe.

One of the odd things about this deadly disease is that even those with no previous history of bronchial asthma suffered breathing and respiratory problems.

"Thunderstorms cause a rapid increase in the number of triggers in the air such as pollens, mold and dust and changes in humidity and temperature," Asthma Australia said.

"Breathing this air in can irritate the lining of the airway causing swelling and extra mucus to be produced. This causes the airway to narrow and triggers an asthma flare-up. These flare-ups may become severe very quickly," it added.

What Can Be Done?

Asthma is a preventable and manageable disease if appropriate management is initiated immediately. While thunderstorm asthma has occurred all over the world in various conditions, there are persistent factors.

"There are many common threads in all reports of thunderstorm-related asthma - a high concentration of potentially allergenic material such as that in late spring in Melbourne (pollen grains or fungi), a thunderstorm that sweeps up the allergens, which burst when wet and release very small particles (such as starch granules or fungal spores)," Reena Ghildyal, an expert in biomedical sciences at the University of Canberra, said as reported by Fox2Now.

Moreover, since people with pre-existing asthma are at a higher risk of having a bout and suffering from medical complications, necessary precautions should be taken. People should keep themselves updated with the local pollen count and weather forecasts, avoid going out during a thunderstorm and keep medications up to date. For emergency situations like having difficulty in breathing, call medics for an immediate medical response.

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