NSW drought: Asthma spike possible due to drought, dry conditions

BE PREPARED: Ochre Health Medical Centre's Dr Ross Wilson says the drought, spring time and an early bushfire season in some parts of the region can all be triggers for asthmatics. Photo: PHIL MURRAY 071015pross
BE PREPARED: Ochre Health Medical Centre's Dr Ross Wilson says the drought, spring time and an early bushfire season in some parts of the region can all be triggers for asthmatics. Photo: PHIL MURRAY 071015pross

ASTHMATICS should be on high alert due to the drought and early arrival of the bushfire season in some parts of the region, GP Dr Ross Wilson says.

Currently, the entire state of NSW has been declared in drought and he says the extremely dry conditions could lead to a greater risk of acute exacerbations is asthmatics.

One in nine Australians have asthma, the equivalent of around 2.5 million people, data from Asthma Australia shows.

Dr Wilson said the onset of spring, coupled with the lack of rainfall, could lead to a higher-than-average spike in asthma attacks.

In spring, the presence of dust storms and higher pollen counts can trigger hay-fever related allergies, which may mimic or exacerbate asthma.

The epidemic thunderstorm asthma event that hit Melbourne in November 2016, which was caused by a potent mix of airborne pollen, weather conditions and rain, left 10 people dead and saw many others suffer from acute asthma flare-ups.

Dr Wilson said people should assess their risk to certain environmental irritants that can make them more susceptible to an attack.

One in nine Australians have asthma, the equivalent of around 2.5 million people.

Asthma Australia

“Dust storms from a lack of rain, windborne pollen, and the risk of living in a high bushfire zone are common environmental asthma triggers that can cause serious flare-ups,” he said.

“Children are the first to feel the effects of smoke and particle pollution, and parents need to take extra care.”

Dr Wilson said around 80 per cent of asthmatics have seasonal allergens – especially in regional and remote areas, where the prevalence of asthma is higher than in major cities.

He encouraged people to take extra preventative measures during spring. 

“As asthma triggers are varied, it’s important to take preventative measures first,” he said.

“When pollen levels are high, dry bed linen indoors, re-circulate the air in your car, and use your prescribed medication before going outdoors.

“The right medication, knowledge and a written Asthma Action Plan can help keep asthma under control.”

ASTHMA MANAGEMENT: Being prepared for seasonal allergens and asthma: Photo: FILE

ASTHMA MANAGEMENT: Being prepared for seasonal allergens and asthma: Photo: FILE

Things you should know about seasonal allergens and asthma:

1. Know the four steps of asthma first aid

Most people know of someone affected by asthma, it’s important that not only asthmatics, but their friends, family and work colleagues, learn the four steps of asthma first aid. These are:

  • Sit the person comfortably upright, give them four puffs of a blue/grey reliever. Then, wait four minutes.
  • If the person still cannot breathe normally, call an ambulance immediately and keep giving them the reliever every four minutes.

2. Exercise in a place that is warm and humid – avoid cold, dry air if possible

Exercise is an important part of good asthma management, don’t let challenging environments stop you from being physically active – it’s important to treat the cause of asthma, not just the symptoms.

Use your reliever before exercising if you need to.

If you’re exercising in cold weather, try to breathe through your nose to help warm and moisten the air before it reaches your airways. Warm up before any strenuous activity and avoid environments with high levels of allergens, pollution or irritant gases.

3. Reduce outdoor activities where pollution and pollen levels are high

Smoke, dust and increased air pollution from bushfires can trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, breathlessness, coughing or tightness in the chest.

On high-risk days, remain indoors with the doors and windows closed. If you’re driving, ensure that you’re using re-circulated air in the car.

4. Know what triggers your asthma

Asthma can flare-up as a response to different triggers in different people, so it’s important to know what allergens – house dust-mites, smoke, pollen, mould, or pets – trigger your asthma, and how to limit your exposure.

Mould exposure can be reduced by sealing leaks in bathrooms and roofs, removing indoor plants, and by using high-efficiency air filters, for instance.

By knowing what triggers to avoid, it is easier to prepare for an asthma flare-up.

5. Have an Asthma Action Plan

To be prepared, have a personalised Asthma Action Plan ready to use whenever symptoms worsen.

Spring can see a rise in influenza and hay fever, so it’s important to talk to your GP and adjust your plan according to the seasons.

Your plan should include a list of your usual asthma medicines, instructions on what to do when your asthma is getting worse, and what to do in an emergency, to ensure that you’re prepared for any unexpected flare-ups or respiratory viruses.