Thunderstorms can trigger respiratory problems in people with asthma or COPD


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A new letter published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) this week says thunderstorms can trigger asthma attacks severe enough to cause hospitalization.

Research showed during the days before a storm, emergency room visits for seniors suffering from asthma or COPD rose significantly.

The data used in the study was from Medicare and focused on those 65 and older. But, professionals say the danger can be just as real for young people.

The study found the hospital visits peaked the day before the storm.

The phenomenon known as thunderstorm asthma was first recognized in Birmingham, England in 1983 but wasn’t really studied until 2016 in Australia.

Researchers think it happens because storms capture pollen grains in their downdrafts. The pollen grains fill with water during the run-up to a storm, explode and disperse prior to the storm hitting. Essentially, the pollen grains pop. The smaller grains easily can pass through someone’s nose or mouth and into the lungs.

The particles are very small a PM 2.5, a human hair, by comparison, is 30 times larger. Because the particles are so small they can get deep inside your lungs and cause problems for some that are triggering asthma or COPD episodes.

The study drew its conclusion by analyzing the Medicare data from 1999 to December of 2012.

The study also used census data to compute there are 37.7 million Americans who are 65 or older. Using those numbers the study estimated an extra 52,000 emergency room visits over the 14-year period of time for respiratory distress in the three days prior to the storm.

In a report by CNN, Dr. Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School said, “It could certainly impact children and younger adults with asthma.”

“We just needed to have the specific data Medicare provides, so we could compare hospitalization rates with weather patterns in small areas.”

How does a person protect themselves during this time? Jena urges people to recognize when a thunderstorm is coming and be as mindful of the change as you would for high pollen counts. Take a little extra care to keep yourself protected.

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