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Emma Caldwell

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Reducing the risk of 'thunderstorm asthma' during summer

The local NHS is urging people with asthma to use their preventer inhalers in the build-up and during thunderstorms to reduce the risk of their condition getting worse.

In addition, the advice is to also carry their reliever inhalers before and during stormy weather.

Thunderstorms can lead to more pollen being carried on strong winds, especially over summer. This can result in pollen being broken down into smaller particles which can reach deeper into people's lungs and lead to asthma attacks.

Some 116,000 people across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West have asthma while changes in weather, pollen, air pollution and thunderstorms can trigger breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. People with hay fever are also at risk.

In addition, data from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows thunderstorms have coincided with a spike in people being admitted to hospital with their asthma across the country. In June 2023, more people across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West required hospital care for their asthma compared to other months (see below for figures).

Our advice to people with asthma is the following:

  1. Use their preventer inhalers regularly in the days leading up to an expected storm.
  2. If possible, stay indoors before, during and after a storm, with windows closed.
  3. If outdoors, wear a mask to reduce pollen exposure.
  4. Be aware of weather forecast alerts for high pollen.
  5. Carry a reliever inhaler on them before and during a storm.

Dr Abid Irfan, a local GP and director of primary care at Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Board (BOB ICB), said:

"Thunderstorms can trigger asthma attacks. If you have asthma use your preventer inhaler regularly in the days before a forecast thunderstorm and keep your reliever inhaler with you before and during the storm. In general, people living with both asthma and hay fever are advised to take antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays as needed to help control their pollen allergy.

"Last year, summer thunderstorms led to an increase in people being admitted to hospital for their asthma across the ICB - people can help us buck this trend by taking the necessary precautions and advice to treat their asthma especially around thunderstorms. This will also take pressure off our local hospitals."

Professor Tim Hinks, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "We don't yet know why only some thunderstorms trigger asthma attacks, but every few years, usually in June, a severe event happens in UK leading to hundreds of people with asthma seeking emergency help. Severe and sometimes fatal attacks can happen even in people with 'mild' asthma. The most important way for people with asthma to keep safe is to use your preventer regularly and keep your reliever with you, particularly if you're having symptoms of hay fever or asthma during pollen season. "

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