Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Thunderstorm asthma

5-minute read

What is thunderstorm asthma?

Thunderstorm asthma is triggered by a mixture of grass pollen in the air and thunderstorm conditions.

It happens when pollen grains are drawn up into the clouds as a thunderstorm forms. The pollen grains absorb water, swell and burst open. Particles containing pollen allergens are released. The wind can push these tiny particles down to ground level where they can be breathed into the lungs.

Thunderstorm asthma usually affects people in the windy period before the rain starts. It usually happens in spring and early summer. Even people who have never had asthma before can get thunderstorm asthma.

If your symptoms become severe call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance — say it is an asthma emergency.

Watch this video from Better Health Channel about thunderstorm asthma. It's also available with subtitles in languages other than English on the Health Translations website.


Who gets thunderstorm asthma?

The risk of thunderstorm asthma is highest in adults who are sensitive to grass pollen (particularly rye grass pollen) and have seasonal hay fever.

Thunderstorm asthma can happen in people of any age.

What are the symptoms of thunderstorm asthma?

If you have thunderstorm asthma, you might have one or more of these symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in your chest
  • wheezing when you breathe
  • persistent coughing

The symptoms of thunderstorm asthma can get worse very quickly. If breathing becomes difficult, call 000 for an ambulance.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What should I do if I have thunderstorm asthma?

If you are experiencing thunderstorm asthma, follow these instructions.

If the symptoms are moderate or mild, begin asthma first aid using your asthma reliever inhaler (if you have one).

Take any hay fever preventer medication, such as a nasal spray containing corticosteroid or antihistamine as directed

If your breathing problems are severe, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance — say it is an asthma emergency. If you have a reliever inhaler you should begin asthma first aid.

If you are with someone who is experiencing asthma symptoms, sit the person upright and follow the instructions above. Stay with them and be calm and reassuring.

Can I prevent thunderstorm asthma?

If you have asthma or hay fever, you can help protect yourself from thunderstorm asthma by managing these conditions and planning for emergency situations.

See your doctor to develop an asthma action plan or hay fever treatment plan.

Your plan should include what preventive medications you can take to manage your condition and what you should do in an asthma emergency. You should review your treatment plan regularly with your doctor.

Your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist if you’ve had symptoms of thunderstorm asthma. They may recommend that you have allergy testing to confirm if you are allergic to rye grass pollen. Specialised treatment (immunotherapy) for rye grass allergy may be an option.

People at risk of thunderstorm asthma should carry an asthma reliever medicine during the pollen season. Asthma preventer medicine may also be recommended.

How can I avoid thunderstorm asthma triggers?

You can check weather forecasts and pollen counts with these sources:

If a thunderstorm is approaching you and it’s a high pollen count day, it is a good idea to:

  • make sure you have your reliever medication with you
  • stay inside, especially when it is windy before the rain
  • close your doors and windows
  • if an air conditioner is on, set it to recirculate air

Face masks don’t protect you against the tiny particles that cause thunderstorm asthma.

When should I seek help for thunderstorm asthma?

If your breathing problems are severe, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance — say it is an asthma emergency.

Information about thunderstorm is also available in languages other than English on the Health Translation website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Thunderstorm asthma - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

It seems reasonable to think that rain would relieve allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma triggered by pollen, by washing pollen out of the air. However, rain from some thunderstorms can make some people's symptoms worse. Epidemics of thunderstorm asthma in Australia have occurred in Melbourne and Wagga Wagga.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Thunderstorm asthma - National Asthma Council Australia

By the last weekend of September, you should be taking your hay fever nasal spray, asthma preventer, or both – and you shouldn’t stop until New Year’s Day (most

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Pollen Season & Asthma | Pollen Count & Grass - Asthma Australia

Pollen from trees & grasses are a common trigger for people with asthma. Learn more about pollen-related asthma flare-ups & prevention strategies here.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Pollen allergy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Pollen from grasses, weeds or trees can trigger symptoms of hayfever and asthma. Pollen seasons can last for several months and exposure is difficult to avoid.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Pollen - a trigger for hay fever - National Asthma Council Australia

Plant pollen is well known as a trigger for seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and sinusitis - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Allergic rhinitis, hay fever, sinusitis, pollen

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Thunderstorm asthma - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Hay Fever & Asthma | Hay Fever-related Asthma Causes & Symptoms - Asthma Australia

Hay fever is a common allergy, also known as allergic rhinitis, that can also trigger asthma flare-ups. Learn more about hay fever-related asthma & symptoms here.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Immunotherapy for Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever) - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Allergen Immunotherapy (AIT) has been used for over 100 years and is a proven treatment providing long-term relief for hay fever. The aim of AIT is to help people react less to their trigger allergen/s that cause symptoms (such as grass pollen/house dust mite). This means having no/less symptoms and a better quality of life.

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Hay fever treatments - MyDr.com.au

Antihistamines work fast and are good at treating mild symptoms of hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose, whereas corticosteroid nasal sprays may take several days to work.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.