Australian Researchers Link Thunderstorms to Asthma Attacks

LONDON-A new study published in the British journal Thorax suggests that a thunderstorm's downdraft can lift pollen from the ground, causing asthma outbreaks of epidemic proportions.

The research, which has been received with much criticism in Britain and Australia, says the outflow, caused when a downdraft pushes aside the ground air, causes these epidemics. The Australian scientists tracked asthma-related ER admissions and meteorological conditions in six inland towns in southeastern Australia. In the town of Wagga Wagga (population 55,519), 215 people went to the ER for asthma treatment on the day of a storm in 1997. The average number of visits for that day was no more than three.

This study contradicts the beliefs that link storm-based asthma attacks to ionic changes caused by lightning, the mechanical effect of water as it causes pollen particles to burst open, or the unsettling effects of ordinary wind.

There have been some asthma outbreaks linked to weather by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, but no major American studies have linked the two. Some American physicians wonder if these two elements may be different for Australians than others. Rain falls and effects people differently in areas of the world. The rain in Arizona, or any high desert, is different than that of Hawaii, or any sub-tropical area.

Although dry storms and wet storms have the same disruptive effects, the loose pollen would differ greatly.

Thunderstorm season often coincides with grass pollen season. The study suggests breathing the allergens sends many asthma-prone people to emergency rooms.