Bendigo Hospital’s Emergency Department has the capacity to treat up to 500 cases of thunderstorm asthma with five minutes notice, but staff say they are unlikely to ever have such a demand.
The department has access to a thunderstorm asthma kit containing Ventolin, antihistamines, spacers, masks and adrenaline to treat an emergency influx of asthma patients.
The department got the kit after Melbourne was hit with an epidemic of thunderstorm asthma in November 2016, which saw 10 people die.
Emergency Department medic Doctor Charles Kerr said that while the hospital was well prepared to deal with a sudden rush of asthma cases, Bendigo was unlikely to be hit by a severe spate of thunderstorm asthma cases.
Thunderstorm asthma is triggered by a combination of high pollen counts and a particular type of thunderstorm that sweeps up grass pollen grains into its clouds where they absorb moisture, burst open and release smaller particles. When these are blown down to ground level they can trigger asthma.
As a rural city Bendigo is surrounded by grass and farmland, which means residents are used to managing their asthma in situations with much higher pollen, Dr Kerr said, where those in metropolitan areas are not.
While practising as a full time GP Dr Kerr would see an influx of patients at around the same time each year, following thunderstorms.
Dr Kerr warned that chronic asthma patients were often the most likely to be caught out by high levels of pollen in the air, because their bodies had adjusted to having restricted airways.
He said regular use of a preventer make it much less likely patients would suffer severe asthma symptoms during thunderstorm asthma events.
“Literally every year in the two weeks after the grand final there’s a thunderstorm, and we get an influx of asthma patients,” he said.
“People who have asthma have a tendency to be inconsistent in the use of their preventers and this is the time of year preventers make a big difference.”
Nurse unit manager Brenton Dillon said the emergency Department had not had a significant increase in people presenting with breathing difficulties.
Thunderstorm asthma can affect people who have never been diagnosed with asthma.
Those at a higher risk of thunderstorm asthma are those with chronic lung disease such as asthma, those with family members who have asthma, smokers and people with hayfever or an allergy to grass pollen.
Check the pollen forecast at: melbournepollen.com.au
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