Ambulance service issues thunderstorm asthma warning

Lightning storm at Sedgwick in 2015. Picture: Peter Weaving
Lightning storm at Sedgwick in 2015. Picture: Peter Weaving

St John Ambulance has issued a list of precautions all Victorians should take to prepare for thunderstorm asthma.

Melbournians suffering from hay fever and asthma were warned today the city would see high pollen counts.

St John Ambulance (Victoria) chief executive Gordon Botwright warned asthma attacks could strike fast and affect a wide range of individuals.

“As the deadly November 2016 storm event showed us, even those who have never suffered before can develop asthma symptoms and experience a sudden onset during extreme weather conditions,” he said.

Melbourne is known as a global hot-spot for the ‘thunderstorm asthma’ phenomenon and tends to experience more cases of it than anywhere else in the world, due to the city’s high rainfall and subsequent winds that stir up pollen in the spring.

“Thunderstorm asthma is a particular threat for those who already suffer from hay fever or asthma, but during the 2016 storms, 40 per cent of people who were struck by thunderstorm asthma were not diagnosed asthmatics,” Mr Botwright said.

“It’s important to recognise when simple hay fever symptoms turn in to an asthma emergency.

“If symptoms worsen quickly, if you’re experiencing a shortness of breath, your lips turn blue or you can’t speak properly, seek medical help immediately.”

St John Ambulance (Victoria) recommends the following precautions to protect yourself from asthma:

1. Educate yourself

Know that the thunderstorm asthma season starts in October and runs to December.

Know the 4x4x4 method:

  • Give 4 separate puffs of an inhaler (with spacer if available)
  • Wait 4 minutes
  • Take 4 breaths, if there is no improvement give another 4 puffs
  • If there is no improvement call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance
  • Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes until the ambulance arrives

2. Have an asthma or hay fever action plan

If you suffer or think you might suffer from symptoms of asthma or hay fever, it’s important to plan for the worst. Head to your local pharmacy and ask about treatments that can ease symptoms should you develop them.

3. Keep up to date with the weather

Visit the Bureau of Meteorology website to check the pollen count and weather in your local area. If the pollen count is high get your asthma action plan in place.

4. Stay indoors

As there is no real cure for asthma, those affected should focus on avoiding triggers. Particularly in the event of a storm, asthmatics should stay inside with the windows and doors closed until after the storm has passed.

5. Get First Aid trained

With millions of Australians suffering from asthma and many more millions from hay fever that could trigger asthma, be prepared with the knowledge and equipment to manage an asthma attack. The person it saves could be you.

To book a First Aid course, head to