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I’ve had hay fever (better known as allergic rhinitis) for as long as I can remember.
Every fall, the sneezing and watery eyes begin and don’t let up until the first good freeze. Then it all happens again in early spring.
While allergies don’t cause asthma, the two often occur together — and pollen increases the risk of a flare-up for people with asthma.
I’m lucky — no asthma for me. But people who share my sensitivity to ragweed and rye grass pollen, dust, and mold spores, need to know about a danger that, until recently, I had never heard of.
It’s a weather-dependent condition, and it can cause an asthmatic response that can land you in the hospital and can even be fatal.
What is “thunderstorm asthma”?
Many people find that their allergic rhinitis symptoms ease in rainy weather since rain cleanses the air and tends to reduce the pollen count.
But thunderstorms are a whole different matter.
Thunderstorm asthma is a phenomenon caused by a predictable series of events that happen along with thunderstorms.
The wind that occurs during a thunderstorm sweeps pollen particles into the clouds, where humidity, wind, and lightning break them into smaller particles that can easily make their way into the sinuses and lungs of allergy sufferers.
The wind gusts also make these concentrated particles easy to inhale.
If you have hay fever, you are at risk for thunderstorm asthma … even if you don’t normally have asthma.
Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and coughing. These symptoms can escalate very quickly and become life-threatening.
According to one study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 144 out of 228 people with seasonal allergies reported experiencing thunderstorm asthma.
How to protect yourself from thunderstorm asthma
There are really two ways to prevent an attack of thunderstorm asthma.
One is to stay alert to pollen counts in your area, keep windows closed when they are high, and stay indoors when a thunderstorm is predicted (the winds that send pollen into your lungs can begin long before the rain comes down).
Face masks, antihistamines and medications prescribed by your physician, including inhalers if you have asthma, should be kept handy.
The other way is a proactive stance and involves nutrition that’s been shown to support the respiratory system.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are known to reduce bronchial inflammation. And regular supplementing with vitamin D3 can reduce the severity of an asthma attack and make it less likely you’ll land in the hospital if one does occur.
The golden oil of the Nigella sativa plant’s black seeds, more commonly known as black seed oil, is reported to act as an antihistamine.
If you decide to supplement, let your healthcare provider know to be sure nothing interferes with allergy or asthma medications.
Of course, anytime asthma symptoms appear severe, seek medical care.
A systematic review of the role of grass pollen and fungi in thunderstorm asthma — Environmental Research
Thunderstorm asthma in seasonal allergic rhinitis: The TAISAR study — The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology