Cold air, a sudden change in temperature, windy or hot, humid days and poor air quality are all known triggers for asthma.
Take your usual dose of reliever inhaler (usually blue) before going out on cold, dry days. If it's cold and windy, wearing a scarf over your face will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in. Try to avoid going out in the middle of the day on hot, smoggy days.
You might not know that thunderstorms can trigger serious asthma attacks in people with asthma, especially children and young adults. Thunderstorms have been associated with an increase in asthma attacks, with large numbers of people needing to go to A&E.
It is not fully understood why this happens, but it is thought during a thunderstorm, the windy conditions cause high levels of pollen and mould spores to be swept up high into the air where the moisture breaks them into much smaller pieces. As the pollen and mould particles then settle back down, these smaller pieces of pollen and mould can be breathed into the smaller airways of the lungs where they irritate the airway and trigger asthma symptoms.
Not all thunderstorms trigger asthma. Small local storms after a hot day are not thought to be triggers. The humidity before the storm must be high enough that the grass pollen or mould spores are released and can survive in the atmosphere. Grass pollen is higher in June and early July. Mould spores are released from crops during harvesting in later July and August. It is also thought that if ozone levels are high, the lungs may be more sensitive to triggers.
It is more likely to be a problem for children who have hay fever and are allergic to pollen and mould spores. If your child is experiencing asthma symptoms, they could be more at risk of asthma attacks triggered by thunderstorms. However, it can also lead to asthma attacks in children who usually have mild asthma and even in children who have hay fever but who have previously not had asthma.
Tips on how to protect against 'thunderstorm asthma'
- Make sure your asthma and hay fever is well managed during the summer season, making sure you are taking the right amount of medicines properly so you have no asthma or hay fever symptoms.
- Make an appointment with your asthma nurse or doctor just before the summer season to check that you are on the correct amount of asthma and hay fever medicines, and that you are using them properly.
- Be aware of pollen, air pollution levels and weather forecasts. Click here to check these.
- If a thunderstorm is expected, try to stay indoors and keep the windows closed.
- Keep your reliever near by at all times.
- Know how to recognise if your asthma is getting worse and when to call for help. A written personalised asthma action plan will have all of this information in it.
- Make sure you know what to do in an asthma attack and have a 'what to do in an asthma attack' card handy to help remind you what to do.