Information updates

Thunderstorm asthma epidemic

Dec 9, 2016

The recent thunderstorm asthma epidemic in Melbourne and its tragic consequences highlight the need for more research, education and awareness in this area.

Thunderstorm asthma is thought to be triggered by thunderstorms that have rapid changes in wind, temperature and humidity, which cause pollen grains to absorb moisture, burst open and release large amounts of small pollen allergen particles that can penetrate deep into the small airways of the lung.   

Not everyone affected by Australian thunderstorm asthma epidemics has had thunderstorm asthma before. However, they have usually had severe allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and have been found to be allergic to ryegrass pollen.

If you have allergic rhinitis or asthma triggered by pollen:

  • Try to avoid being outside on high pollen days, particularly during windy days and thunderstorms (which are common in spring); and
  • See your pharmacist and/or doctor to check that you are being appropriately treated, with preventer medications. 

It is important to note that:

  • Not all thunderstorms, even on days with high pollen counts, trigger thunderstorm asthma
  • Other weather factors are involved in thunderstorm asthma
  • It is not only people with pollen allergy who may be affected by thunderstorm asthma
  • Other allergens such as fungal spores, massive humidity and temperature changes over a short period can also affect some people with asthma and other respiratory diseases during a thunderstorm

Further information on thunderstorm is available at: 

AusPollen Apps are available at and these aim to provide accurate and easily accessible information on local pollen counts.  Completion of a short questionnaire will help the AusPollen research team to evaluate usefulness of the apps and how the service can be improved. This research is funded by NHMRC Partnership Project GNT1116107 and co-sponsorship from partner organisations, including ASCIA and AIFA. 



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