Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Asthma Advice

If you have breathing difficulties during a thunderstorm you should take your reliever medication, but if symptoms persist - go straight to the Emergency Department of your local hospital.

Asthma Foundation NSW has found that a large proportion of people who have wheezing and sneezing or other breathing symptoms during the spring thunderstorm season do not realise they are sensitive to pollens. Also they do not regard themselves as having asthma and therefore have not consulted their doctor for an Asthma Action Plan. Many people moving to country NSW may not have been previously exposed to this combination of environmental conditions and have never experienced the symptoms of asthma. This includes an increasing transient population, including groups such as defence personnel, University students and itinerant workers.

There are several actions that can help protect against thunderstorm asthma.

These include:

  • avoiding outdoor activities during thunderstorms, particularly those involving physical activity when breathing is increased
  • switching your car air-conditioner to recycle mode
  • having a current Asthma Action Plan
  • taking prescribed asthma medications as directed, including ready access to reliever medications

Asthma Medications

  • Preventers - make the airways less sensitive, reduce the inflammation and swelling inside the airways and dry up the mucus. It may take a few weeks to reach their optimal effect and usually need to be taken daily, even when feeling well
  • Relievers - provide relief from asthma symptoms within minutes. They relax the muscles in the wall of the airways for up to four hours, allowing air to more easily move through the airways
  • Symptom controllers - (also called long acting relievers) help to relax the muscles around the airways for up to 12 hours. They are taken every day and are only prescribed for people who are taking regular inhaled 'steroid' preventers
  • Combination medications – combination of a preventer with a symptom controller in the same delivery device

Delivery Devices

Most asthma medications are inhaled via either an aerosol inhaler (puffer) or dry powder inhaler. Most people use inhaled asthma medication because medication goes directly to the lungs and smaller doses can be given so there are fewer side effects.

Asthma Puffer and Spacer

Use of a spacer device (such as the one in the image above) optimises delivery of the drug dose to the smaller airways (and limits deposition in the mouth and throat). You should consult your local GP who can help you prepare a written Asthma Action Plan, including information about:

  • monitoring your symptoms
  • the correct selection and use of medications and delivery devices
  • the appropriate actions in case of worsening asthma

Asthma First Aid

  • Sit the person upright and give reassurance. Do not leave the person alone.
  • Without delay give 4 puffs of a reliever (Airomir, Asmol, Epaq or Ventolin)*. The medication is best given one puff at a time via a spacer device**. Ask the person to take 4 breaths from the spacer after each puff of medication.
  • Wait 4 minutes. If little or no improvement repeat step 2 and wait a further 4 minutes.
  • If there is still no improvement call an ambulance (Dial 000).

Continuously repeat steps 2 and 3 while waiting for the ambulance.

* A Bricanyl Turbuhaler may be used in first aid treatment if a puffer and spacer is not available.
** If a spacer is not available, simply use the puffer on it's own.

Where to get help on Asthma

Asthma NSW

ASTHMA Foundation NSW provides free information:

The Wagga Asthma and COPD Collaborative is a group of health professionals and consumer representatives who promote awareness of asthma and coordinate the pollen counts and asthma alerts for the Wagga Wagga region when the thunderstorm asthma risk is high.