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Thunderstorm asthma is the triggering of an asthma attack by environmental conditions directly caused by a local thunderstorm. It has been proposed that during a thunderstorm, pollen grains can absorb moisture and then burst into much smaller fragments with these fragments being easily dispersed by wind. However, there is no experimental evidence confirming this theory.[1] While larger pollen grains are usually filtered by hairs in the nose, the smaller pollen fragments are able to pass through and enter the lungs, triggering the asthma attack.[2][3][4][5]



There have been events where thunderstorms have caused asthma attacks across cities such that emergency services and hospitals have been overwhelmed. The phenomenon was first recognised and studied after three recorded events in the 1980s; in Birmingham, England, in 1983 and in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 and 1989. Since then there have been further reports of widespread thunderstorm asthma in Wagga Wagga, Australia; London, England; Naples, Italy;[6] Atlanta, United States;[7] and Ahvaz, Iran.[8] A further outbreak in Melbourne, in November 2016, that overwhelmed the ambulance system and some local hospitals, resulted in at least nine deaths.[9][10][11][12][13] There was a similar incident in Kuwait in early December, 2016 with at least 5 deaths and many admissions to the ICU.[14][15]


Many of those affected during a thunderstorm asthma outbreak may have never experienced an asthma attack before.[16]

It has been found 95% of those that were affected by thunderstorm asthma had a history of hayfever, and 96% of those people had tested positive to grass pollen allergies, particularly rye grass.[17] A rye grass pollen grain can hold up to 700 tiny starch granules, measuring 0.6 to 2.5 μm, small enough to reach the lower airways in the lung.[18][19][20]

Significant eventsEdit

  • 6 July 1983 (1983-07-06) – 7 July 1983 (1983-07-07): Birmingham, England
  • 8 November 1987 (1987-11-08): Melbourne, Australia
  • 29 November 1989 (1989-11-29) – 30 November 1989 (1989-11-30): Melbourne, Australia
  • 24 July 1994 (1994-07-24) – 25 July 1994 (1994-07-25): London, England
  • 30 October 1997 (1997-10-30): Wagga Wagga, Australia
  • 4 June 2004 (2004-06-04): Naples, Italy
  • 25 November 2010 (2010-11-25): Melbourne, Australia
  • 2 November 2013 (2013-11-02): Ahvaz, Iran
  • 21 November 2016 (2016-11-21): Melbourne, Australia
  • 1 December 2016 (2016-12-01): Kuwait and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


  1. ^ editor, Ian Sample Science (24 November 2016). "Thunderstorm asthma: how seasonal weather can affect human health" – via The Guardian.
  2. ^ Suphioglu C. Thunderstorm Asthma Due to Grass Pollen. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 1998;116:253–260. doi:10.1159/000023953
  3. ^ Taylor, P.E. & Jonsson, H. Thunderstorm asthma. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep (2004) 4: 409. doi:10.1007/s11882-004-0092-3
  4. ^ Dabrera G, Murray V, Emberlin J, Ayres JG, Collier C, Clewlow Y, Sachon P. Thunderstorm asthma: an overview of the evidence base and implications for public health advice. QJM. 2013 Mar;106(3):207-17. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcs234. PMID 23275386
  5. ^ D'Amato G, Vitale C, D'Amato M, Cecchi L, Liccardi G, Molino A, Vatrella A, Sanduzzi A, Maesano C, Annesi-Maesano I. Thunderstorm-related asthma: what happens and why. Clin Exp Allergy. 2016 Mar;46(3):390-6. doi: 10.1111/cea.12709. PMID 26765082
  6. ^ D'Amato, G., Liccardi, G. and Frenguelli, G. (2007), Thunderstorm-asthma and pollen allergy. Allergy, 62: 11–16. doi:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2006.01271.x
  7. ^ Grundstein A, Sarnat SE, Klein M, Shepherd M, Naeher L, Mote T, Tolbert P. Thunderstorm associated asthma in Atlanta, Georgia. Thorax. 2008 Jul;63(7):659-60. doi: 10.1136/thx.2007.092882. PMID 18587040
  8. ^ Forouzan A, Masoumi K, Haddadzadeh Shoushtari M, Idani E, Tirandaz F, Feli M, Assarehzadegan MA, Asgari Darian A. An overview of thunderstorm-associated asthma outbreak in southwest of Iran. J Environ Public Health. 2014;2014:504017. doi: 10.1155/2014/504017. PMID 25093023
  9. ^ Wright, Patrick (24 November 2016). "'Thunderstorm asthma': Three people remain critical, at least four dead". ABC Online. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  10. ^ "'Thunderstorm asthma': Four people now believed dead, could have been more, minister says" ABC News, 23 November 2016. Accessed 23 November 2016.
  11. ^ "Sixth person dies from thunderstorm asthma emergency". ABC News. 2016-11-27. Retrieved 2016-11-27.
  12. ^ "'Thunderstorm asthma' deaths in Melbourne rise to nine". BBC Online. 29 November 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  13. ^ "Thunderstorm asthma: Ninth death in Victoria after freak weather event in 2016". ABC News. 25 January 2017. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  14. ^ Five expats die of asthma as rain lashes Kuwait. Gulf Digital News, 2016
  15. ^ "KUNA: Five people die in 2 days due to asthma attacks - health official". December 2, 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  16. ^ Reed Alexander & James Griffiths (November 23, 2016). "'Thunder asthma:' Deadly illness caused by freak weather". CNN. Retrieved November 23, 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  17. ^ "What is thunderstorm asthma? - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  18. ^ Peter Dockrill (2015-08-21). "Thunderstorm asthma is a real thing that's killed 2 people in Australia". Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  19. ^ D'Amato G, Annesi Maesano I, Molino A, Vitale C, D'Amato M. Thunderstorm-related asthma attacks.J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017 Jun;139(6):1786-1787. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.03.003. PMID 28342913
  20. ^ "Thunderstorm asthma". ASCIA - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy. 2016. Retrieved 2017-12-12.