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How a Storm Triggered a City-Wide Asthma Attack

How a Storm Triggered a City-Wide Asthma Attack

In November 2016, on a very hot day in Melbourne,
Australia, a thunderstorm rolled into town. And suddenly, thousands of people found themselves
struggling to breathe; a strange outbreak of asthma, sparked by a storm. In just five hours, paramedics were called
nearly 2,000 times. By the end, nine people had died, and hospitals
had treated 8,500 patients. So, what happened? Well, thankfully, an event like this is rare,
but it has happened before. It’s known as thunderstorm asthma. Several other instances of thunderstorm asthma
have been documented in the US, Canada, England,and Italy. This latest event, though, was the most severe
we know of. Previously, only one person had died from
thunderstorm asthma, and the largest attack affected just a few hundred patients. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes
thunderstorm asthma, but the best guess is that a storm picks up pollen and other allergens, and then concentrates them so that people breathe in a lot of them in a short amount of time. In people who are allergic to these things,
inhaled pollen and mold can trigger an immune response that causes airways to close, kicking
off an asthma attack. But the problem isn’t just that a bunch
of allergens are blowing around. Normally, most pollens are too big to get
into your lungs, even if they’re blown right into your face. A storm, though, can change that. Updrafts are thought to pull pollen up into clouds, where pollen grains come in contact with water. And when that happens, the pollen bursts open, with each grain releasing hundreds of tiny granules. Windy downdrafts can deliver these microscopic
bits of pollen back to the ground, where they can be inhaled — and this time,
they can go deep into your lungs A similar process is thought to happen with
the tiny spores produced by fungus, which can get kicked up in a storm. Now, even though it’s called
thunderstorm asthma, it’s not just asthmatics who are at risk. A recent survey of the Melbourne victims
found that 40 percent of people who experienced symptoms
hadn’t been diagnosed with asthma before. Instead, an important factor in these events
seems to be whether you’re allergic to whatever kind of mold or pollen
that a storm is stirring up at the time. That means anyone with hayfever,
or allergies to seasonal pollens, might be at greater risk for thunderstorm asthma. One reason scientists think the
Melbourne case may have been so severe is that the culprit pollen was ryegrass,
which many people have an allergy to, and which was especially abundant at the time. Since about 20 percent of the world is sensitive
to some sort of grass or tree pollen, part of the danger with thunderstorm asthma is simply that a lot of people
might need help at the same time. As was almost the case in Melbourne, there might not be enough ambulances
to get to everyone fast enough. Complicating things more, these attacks can catch
many people off-guard, especially non-asthmatics. Unless you have asthma already, most people
with hayfever just get runny noses or scratchy eyes, but don’t really have trouble breathing. So, those people don’t have the medicines
they need on hand, like a rescue inhaler. While these are freak events, and not something
you need to worry about every day, some experts say they’re likely to become more frequent
with climate change. In many parts of the world, hotter temperatures are predicted to increase the number and severity of storms. And extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
could spur plants to make more pollen, or even more potent pollen. So, if a storm seems to be headed your way,
and the pollen count is high, you might want to check to see if you have your inhaler. Just to be sure. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon,
thank you to all of those people. If you want to help support this show, you
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that is also fantastic, and that also really does help. And you can get an episode of SciShow in your
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100 Replies to “How a Storm Triggered a City-Wide Asthma Attack”

  • If you don't have an inhaler, is there anything else that can be used in a pinch until reaching emergency services?

  • i as int he city when this happened, holy crap it was scary, i was in fed square ( the CBD ) after the first few call paramedics were stationed there until the end of the day..

  • Weird thing is that so far I havent experienced any spring allergies here in Ontario, and its almost May (2017) and getting much warmer

  • I somehow read it as amnesia attack and was sort of disappointed when I realized it wasn't. Still interesting though

  • I wonder how much the ozone created by the lightning affects this phenomenon. Ozone at ground level is a big trigger for respiratory issues, and lightning creates a lot of ozone. A storm with a lot of lightning would seem to be something that could help with the creation of 'thunderstorm asthma' cases, possibly?

  • So basically the plants are killing us?

  • Ah, yes…gotta get the official lefty libTard myth of global warming in there somewhere! Ya ever wonder how much "patreon potential" yer throwing away by pushing the lefty crap? My guess is…maybe HALF! I hope the BS is worth that!

  • I'd say excessive production of ozone by lighting is a far more likely culprit that pollen and spores. Generally, water (such as you might find in a rainstorm) reduces the amount of particulates in the air. As for smaller pollen being released in the clouds, allow me to acquaint you with the word, 'nucleation'.

  • This happens to me regularly now, in the Oklahoma City area, before every storm, & it's storm season. The first time I was at home, taking my dogs out before the rain started, & almost lost consciousness before I made it inside to my inhaler. It started the other day, hours before the storm actually hit, not as severe. But it doesn't seem safe to go out anymore on cloudy days in chance of rain without a scarf or something to cover my face. 😡

  • To be fair, the amount of storms the whole country had to deal with last year, something weird and strange had to happen.

  • Fun fact: pretty much all rescue inhalers are exactly the same, and anyone can use them. So if this happens, ask a buddy who has asthma to use their inhaler.
    (Paramedics even have these on them to help asthma attacks)

  • Is it possible the lighting ionizing the air and creating too much ozone? I've heard of little dogs dying from ionizing air filters.

  • Could it also be the increase of ozone during these storms that cause these asthma attacks?

  • As someone with severe asthma and pretty obnoxious allergies, this scares the ever-loving shit out of me.

  • I get something similar whenever there's a storm. I have lung problems anyway, though not asthma. We always thought it had something to do with barometric pressure.

  • why does waxing hurt? Scientific explanation please. I tried googling it but I couldn't find anything really relevant

  • I work in public health in Melbourne, so it was a very interesting day. I was in the gym at the peak time of the attacks so yay me???

  • I have just started watching the video but did you mention that, some idiots, said it was the government doing experiments? Lel.

  • I just cooked 2 microwave noodles and when I took them out they just dropped from the floor of the microwave to the bench in an instant and I think I stretched one of the muscles in my left shoulder ow lol

  • So, do we even have proof this was caused by a thunderstorm and not something else ? I mean.. this does sound like…superfishy to say the least.

    How far back does the first "thunderstorm asthma" event goes ?

    It's not like governements have never used citizens as guinea pigs for some nefarious experiments before eh..

    Plus, my fellow scientists, have you ever heard of the "chemtrails" conspiracy theory ? supposedly spray chemicals in order to modify the weather amongst other things (so much for climate change eh, how about the climate change is a direct result of chemtrails activity !)

  • Is it possible that the increased ozone in the air due to lightning causing a chemical reaction where oxygens fuse into ozone is causing the asthma?

  • And what if you just have allergies and not asthma so your doctor has never prescribed you a rescue inhaler? Should I just stab myself with an epipen?

  • Simply another reason why Melbourne SHOULDN'T be considered the world's most liveable city for I don't know how many successive years. I'm so glad I live on the outer fringe of the Melbourne Fringe, although we still copped the storm in all it's sinisterly glory. My daughter has been totally Asthma free for about two years (and was not affected by the storm), but I still keep a current inhaler on hand – unopened. Our neighbour needed it – it took nearly two weeks for any of the chemists in the area to restock it.

  • 2:43 yeah, and those of us who do get some breathing troubles with airborne/seasonal/nasal/hayfever allergies don't have it that bad, usually. For me, it's like having a cold – annoying, but not life-threatening.

  • Last month there was a sudden quick downpour in NYC, we were in Bryant Park and when it stopped everyone was coughing! it felt like there was something in the air… not dust per say, but as if the thickness of the air had changed. I don't have any type of allergies. I've never experienced this in my life. I just hope it wasn't the rat poison they put in the closed green spaces.

  • I have asthma. It does not affect my life very much though. In fact… my parents and sister have asthma. Don't know about the baby though. I am lucky because I have very mild asthma, which very rarely, like extremely rare, starts up an asthma attack. I only have 1, maybe 2 I remember. I haven't have a major asthma attack for years. I don't have an inhaler. I do know that when I last had a major one, I had a mask of some sort that had a blue liquid. The last one, I'm not so sure if it was an attack. I was playing when it became harder to breath all of a sudden. I was gasping and my breath was hoarse, but I was OK. Then again, the house that happened in was one where I also got red eyes a lot, mostly downstairs in the basement.
    My mom and sister have moderate asthma, but haven't had an asthma attack as far as I remember. They do have serious problems with gluten. My sister, when she takes in gluten, she has massive sickness. Her stomach hurts a lot, and she sometimes vomits. Not sure what happens to my mom though. My dad has severe asthma. It only happens when he sleeps though. He snores when sleeping; very loudly. He doesn't do it when he wears a mask connected to a device that helps open up his airways. He can have gluten like me, but only in very small amounts at a time.
    I, however, am different. I have autism; Asperger's type. I'm on the high functioning end, and is smart. I have a high IQ (though it has not been tested, I must have a high IQ),and have a vast vocabulary. I can have gluten without any symptoms. I do have anxiety disorders though. I also have ADHD, combined type, and have a hard time blocking out certain things and focusing, and don't produce a lot of melatonin without medication. When I don't have medication to help with that as well as a bunch of other things because I don't eat how I am supposed to, I can't sleep. I would stay up until like 5 – 6 in the morning at the most before my parents realize I haven't had sleep medication. I also am chronically dehydrated, and have had serious things wrong. I nearly died in birth from not enough air from the cord wrapped around my body and neck, and once fell off a swing and had to get the skin on my scalp glued together. I also like to draw a lot.

  • Thunderstorm asthma is BS. I come from a family of farmers. They have never heard of such a thing. This is geoengineering. The sooner we wake up and stop this insanity the sooner our kids will stop inhaling poison.

  • Here in Victoria, Aus, the VicEmergency service/app now warns people of potential thunderstorm asthma risks. Melbourne is a high risk area as much of the area west and north west of the city where the prevailing winds come from is a grain crop region, so a lot of pollen and dust is picked up during wind and storms.

  • I was walking home from work just as this storm hit. I didn't experience any shortness of breath, but the gust front that accompanied the storm was definitely unusually dusty – the sky literally turned yellow before the rain hit.


  • Asthma is not understood by doctors because they do not know the root cause and ignore acupressure and other asian methods such as marmayoga. Pressing on the lips relaxes lung airways. Google for

    gv26 important

    I cured my chronic asthma by pressing my lips together as a habit, instead of breathing with my mouth open like an asthmatic. This back to nature wich is thwarted by medical indoctrination.

  • I don’t get it…you’re basically saying pollen allergies can make you have asthma attacks..?
    I have severe asthma and severe hayfever…!

  • Well I did honestly experience the incident as I was living in Melbourne at the time the incident occurred. I do have asthma but strangely I only had a minor asthma attack that night that required me to use my ventilator puffer though it could of still possibly been a lot worse so I’m quite baffled on how I somehow wasn’t affected much by the incident.

  • Last time this happened I was going for a walk around the neighborhood talking to a friend on the phone when I complained to him the air smelt a bit chemical and I had trouble breathing. Got home and my lungs were burning and I was wheezing hard. I had difficulty breathing for weeks after. Prior to this never had asthma and I stay fit (I train muay thai regularly so my cardio is well in check). That night 8,500 people went to hospital with some having heart attacks and dying. And they're warning us for another round this week. Something that's never existed prior.


  • Yes I remember that day, i was in 6th grade our whole city was basically on lock down and no was allowed out (if you had asthma) but the thing was I didn’t have asthma but my fiends that didn’t have asthma and I was struggling to breath and it hurt my chest and it was happening to many around the school and city. It was so crazy that we were not allowed out at all

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