Thunderstorm asthma is an uncommon phenomenon where a large number of people, many of whom have never had a previous asthma diagnosis or treatment, experience asthma over a short period of time. It is thought to be triggered by high grass pollen levels and a specific type of thunderstorm.
In anticipation of grass pollen season, which typically runs from 1 October to 31 December in South Eastern states, an increased awareness of thunderstorm asthma is required in the community to increase resilience and reduce impacts, including saving lives. General practitioners (GPs) have a vital role in identifying both asthma and allergic rhinitis, and in optimising patient’s management and self-care.
This activity focuses on understanding the thunderstorm asthma phenomenon, identifying environmental and patient risk factors; identifying, managing and providing education for those at increased risk and managing your clinic’s preparedness for such events.
Relevance to General Practice
On 21-22 November 2016, Melbourne experienced the largest thunderstorm asthma event ever recorded; Melbourne and Geelong public hospital experienced:
• 9,909 total emergency department presentations – 3,643 (58%) more than expected
• 672% increase in respiratory-related presentations (3365 more than expected)
• 992% increase in asthma-related admissions (476 more than expected), including 30 extra in intensive care unit admissions for asthma
Nine more deaths occurred in people between 21 and 30 November with asthma reported as the primary cause of death, than would be expected (these are currently being investigated by the Coroner’s Court).
In addition, there was a significant surge in ambulance calls, calls to Nurse-On-Call, pharmacy attendances and visits to general practice both during and after the event.
Some practices experienced significant delays in the arrival of ambulances for transporting patients with acute asthma. Many practices also reported a flow on effect.
- identify environmental and patient risk factors for thunderstorm asthma
- identify and manage those at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma
- outline patient appropriate education to those at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma
Domains of General Practice
D1. Communication skills and the patient-doctor relationship
D2. Applied professional knowledge and skills
D3. Population health and the context of general practice
D4. Professional and ethical role
D5. Organisational and legal dimensions
Curriculum Contextual Units
- Rural health
- Adult health
- Care of older people
- Children and young people health
- Disaster management
National Asthma Council Australia and the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria State Government