Thursday, 7 Dec 2023

Thunderstorm asthma alert issued for much of Victoria after hundreds sent to hospital

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A thunderstorm asthma alert has been issued for much of Victoria after stormy conditions and high grass pollen levels already sent hundreds to hospital from Tuesday night.

Melburnians were warned in an advice message issued at 5pm on Wednesday via VicEmergency there was an increased chance of having an asthma attack or breathing difficulties as storms developed on Wednesday evening.

A cool change in Melbourne brings a chance of thunderstorms and an alert about thunderstorm asthma.Credit: Justin McManus

The alert covers the north, central and east of Victoria and the Department of Health has a moderate thunderstorm asthma forecast active in those areas.

“People may experience asthma symptoms or difficulty breathing due to the combination of thunderstorm activity and high grass pollen levels,” the VicEmergency alert says.

On Tuesday night into Wednesday, 231 people attended emergency departments across Victoria with asthma-like symptoms and five public hospitals had higher than usual asthma-like presentations.

Last month, the Victoria public hospital system averaged 43 asthma-related presentations a day.

Melbourne’s south-east was at the centre of the asthma spike based on figures between 4pm on Tuesday and 2.30pm on Wednesday from the Health Department’s syndromic surveillance system.

Fifty people went to Casey Hospital with asthma-like symptoms, 44 to Dandenong Hospital, 21 to Monash Medical Centre in Clayton and 21 people went to Frankston Hospital. Ballarat Hospital also had 11 presentations overnight Tuesday.

“This is a timely reminder for anyone who experiences asthma and spring hay fever to be prepared, and have their reliever medication available at all times,” a Health Department spokesperson said.

“Stay out of the wind gusts before and during storms. Go inside and close your windows and doors until the storm has passed and turn off air-condition that brings outdoor air in, such as evaporative systems.”

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a separate severe thunderstorm warning for Melbourne’s outer east on Wednesday evening, but it was soon cancelled.

A broader storm alert area remained in Victoria’s north and east after 6.30pm, stretching from Seymour to Sale.

The thunderstorm asthma risk is forecast to be low across much of the state on Thursday, aside from the north and north-east.

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