Doctors today warned asthmatics and hay fever sufferers face a higher risk of deadly allergic reactions due to the current thunderstorms.
The combination of high pollen counts and wet weather creates a phenomenon known as ‘thunder fever’ or ‘thunderstorm asthma’.
It is thought to happen when moisture brought by the storm shatters pollen normally too large to enter the lungs into tiny pieces that can travel deep inside the airways.
There is some evidence lightning may split these pollen grains open and have the same effect.
Hay fever sufferers are at risk, but so too are around 60 per cent of asthmatics whose symptoms are triggered by pollen.
Dr Sophie Farooque, who specialises in allergies, said this week could result in an epidemic of thunderstorm asthma in levels not seen since 1994 , when thousands suffered attacks.
‘This week thunderstorms are expected & I want to make people with hay fever aware of a very rare phenomenon called thunderstorm asthma,’ she said.
She pointed to a thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in November 2016 that killed eight asthmatics.
Dr Farooque advised people with hay fever or asthma to remain indoors and close windows before and after a storm and stock up on antihistamines.
It comes as the Met Office issued thunderstorm warnings for the entirety of England and Wales today, and for some parts of both nations tomorrow.
The arrival of the storms, bringing welcome relief after a week of hot weather, coincides with pollen levels being medium-to-high in England and Wales.
‘Thunder fever’ could hit the UK in echoes of 1994 when thousands of people suffered athsma attacks in space of a few hours
Similar conditions are predicted for tomorrow with thunderstorms and high pollen counts combining in some areas of England and Wales
Allergy doctor Dr Sophe Farooque warned asthma and hay fever sufferers to take care today and tomorrow with predictions of thunderstorm asthma
What is ‘Thunder Fever’ and ‘Thunderstorm Asthma’?
‘Thunder fever’ or ‘thunderstorm asthma’ is a term referring to the phenomenon where people are more likely to experience hay fever symptoms, and asthma attacks in thunderstorms.
It is caused by a storm interacting with a high pollen count.
Winds brought by the storm pick up more pollen grains and mould spores which are then carried into the air.
This pollen is then carried into the moisture rich air in the clouds.
The excess moisture in the clouds enter into the pollen grains causing them to break apart into smaller pieces.
Subsequent rain and wind can then bring these tiny particles down to ground level where people with hay fever can breath them in.
Due to their smaller size these pollen particles can more easily travel deeper into people’s airways and eyes triggering or worsening hay fever symptoms and asthma attacks.
On thunderstorm asthma, Dr Farooque said on Twitter: ‘The last episode major UK episode was in London in 1994.’
If you have to go outside, you should wear a mask to limit your exposure to pollen particles, Dr Farooque said.
Sufferers who experience an asthma attack should take antihistamines. If suffering a severe attack she said to take four puffs of the blue reliever and wait four minutes, repeating once if necessary.
Dr Farooque said people should then call 999 if repeating the puffs does not improve symptoms.
In 1994, southern and central England was hit by a thunderstorm asthma epidemic that resulted in about 7,000 people suffering asthma attacks in the space of an hour on the night of June 24.
Researchers later found the epidemic was caused by a storm arriving shortly after the peak of the grass pollen concentration in the capitol.
Dr Farooque said while grass pollen levels are falling other plants are still producing high levels of allergens.
‘Although grass pollen levels are falling, weed pollen levels are high, as are levels of Alternaria (found in soil and on plants, cereal grains, grass & rotten wood),’ she said.
Charites have advised asthmatics to carry their reliever inhaler with them and ensure they have a supply of anti-hayfever medication during storms in case the pollen triggers an attack.
Erika Radford, head of health advice at Asthma + Lung UK, said: ‘When pollen is mixed with thunderstorms, it increases the risk of someone with asthma having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.’
‘On its own, pollen can inflame the airways of people with asthma, triggering symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness.
‘The windy conditions during a thunderstorm can make this worse by breaking the pollen down into smaller particles which can then be inhaled deeper into the lungs.’
Ms Radford said with thunderous conditions predicted, people with athms needed to be prepared.
‘We’re expecting high pollen levels and thunderstorms in many parts of the country this week, so would urge people to keep a close eye on their asthma symptoms and know what to do if they get worse,’ she said.
‘If your asthma is triggered by pollen and thunder, make sure you are taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed and always have your reliever inhaler with you.
‘Try and stay indoors during and after the storm and keep windows shut to eliminate pollen in your home. And remember to take your usual hay fever treatments’
Several previous health alerts relating high pollen counts, warm weather, and storms have been issued to Britain’s asthmatics and hay fever sufferers this year.
Similar conditions prompted experts and medics to issue warnings in June.
During thunder fever, the weather system creates updraughts that ‘suck’ pollen grains into clouds where the moisture within forces them to rupture.
This sends smaller fragments plummeting back down to earth in what has been nicknamed ‘thunder fever’.
As these particles fall back down to earth they can travel deeper into people’s airways than normal, potentially triggering or exacerbating an attack.
About 1,400 people died of an asthma attack in 2018, according to an analysis by charity Asthma UK, the most recent data available.
Thunderstorms are predicted to hit both England and Wales today, with a high pollen count in Yorkshire and Humber with medium levels in the rest of countries.
Storms are limited to the South West, London and the South East, the east of England and the southern parts of Wales and the Midlands tomorrow.
Pollen counts are predicted to be high in Wales and the Midland tomorrow, with medium levels in the southern parts of England.
Hay fever myths BUSTED: Having sex or eating honey will NOT rid you of the seasonal sniffles… but you CAN ‘grow out’ of the pollen allergy
With the nation being battered by sky-high pollen levels, desperate Britons are scrambling to find a quick fix for their sniffles.
Popular theories being peddled online recommend having sex, eating honey and only venturing outside at night — others have jumped on the trend to claim that rain will wash away pollen and that people can ‘grow out’ of the annoying illness.
But, as ever, not every bit of medical advice you read online is quite as billed.
Here, MailOnline dismisses some of the bogus claims gaining most traction.
Whenever mercury starts to shoot up, social media becomes rife with claims that having sex can ease hay fever
Having sex will NOT work
Whenever mercury starts to shoot up, social media becomes rife with claims that having sex can ease hay fever.
It was sparked by study from Iran in 2008 that noted a blocked or runny nose — tell-tale hay fever symptoms — are caused by blood vessels in the nose expanding in response to a high pollen count.
Because nasal sprays — often recommended by pharmacists to manage symptoms — work by causing the blood vessels in the nose to narrow, researchers suggested that male ejaculation, which has the same effect, could alleviate these symptoms.
It prompted advocates to recommend that men should have sex or masturbate when suffering nasal congestion — if it is caused by hay fever, or even a cold or flu, which have the same effect on expanding blood vessels in the nose.
The researchers advised that patients should ‘adjust the number of intercourses or masturbations depending on the severity of the symptoms’.
But the same paper was dismissed just two months later — in the same journal. Other experts in Iran called the supposed treatment ‘inconvenient, unreliable and potentially hazardous’.
The belief is honey, especially locally-grown versions that are not processed, pasteurised or filtered to the same extent as commercial honey, contains traces of pollen which can act as immunotherapy that trains your body to cope by consuming small doses of pollen. But the evidence on whether it actually works isn’t quite as sweet
Eating honey WON’T help
The belief is honey, especially locally-grown versions that are not processed, pasteurised or filtered to the same extent as commercial honey, contains traces of pollen.
Some believe it can therefore act as immunotherapy that trains your body to cope by consuming small doses of pollen.
But the evidence on whether it actually works isn’t quite as sweet.
The pollen that triggers sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes is small grains shed from grass and trees, which bees do not visit to pollinate.
Instead, they come into contact with heavier flower-based pollen, which does not cause hay fever. Only small amounts end up in the final product.
Some studies have suggested honey does work, but critics have pointed huge flaws in their methodology, piling huge doubts on whether the results can be trusted.
Research by the University of Connecticut from 2002, which is deemed the best study, involved giving 36 hay fever sufferers one tablespoon a day of either small-batch and unfiltered honey; nationally-collected, filtered and pasteurised honey; or corn syrup with honey flavouring.
The findings, published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, show that after 10 days of tracking their symptoms, none of the groups reported any easing of their symptoms.
Around half of people find that their symptoms get better with age and one in five say they disappear completely, according to a Swedish study.
You CAN ‘grow out’ of it
There is no cure for hay fever. But around half of people find that their symptoms get better with age and one in five say they disappear completely, according to a Swedish study.
Researchers at University Hospital in Lund, Sweden quizzed 5,000 people aged 20 to 60 on their sneezing, and coughing habits due to hay fever, fur and dust allergies. Each completed two questionnaires, eight years apart.
Results, published in the scientific journal Allergy, showed that 20 per cent reported that their symptoms disappeared within the eight-year period, with people in their fifties most likely to report that they had vanished.
A separate 23-year study of more than 700 students in the US found 55 per cent reported their hay fever had improved, of which 23 per cent became symptom-free.
However, a third of the participants, who were 40-years-old when they updated scientists on their symptoms, said their hay fever had not changed, while one in 10 reported that it had worsened with age.
Medics are unsure why some people are able to shake off their hay fever.
But the NHS notes that around half of people report their symptoms easing with age, even if they do not disappear completely.
Those who think they will not be coughing and sneezing if they keep inside during the day and only go out at night may be disappointed — depending on what type of pollen is triggering their symptoms
Hay fever ISN’T always worse in the day
The NHS advises the one in five Britons suffering hay fever to stay indoors whenever the pollen count is high.
A high pollen count is associated with daylight hours because sun and warmth cause plants to release pollen into the air, while cooler night-time periods are thought of as low-risk for allergy sufferers.
But those who think they will not be coughing and sneezing if they keep inside during the day and only go out at night may be disappointed — depending on what type of pollen is triggering their symptoms.
A team of researchers from Adam Mickiewicz University in Umultowska, Poland, studied the levels of five common types of pollen during the day, between 8am and 8pm, and at night, between 8pm and 8am.
Levels of mugwort pollen — which peaks between July and August in the UK — were lower after the sun went down.
But the concentration of ragweed pollen, which thrives in summer and can remain circulating until September, were higher at night.
And the rates of grass, which runs from May to September, and alder pollen, which circulates from January to April, varied little over a 24-hour period.
Light drizzle can stop pollen spreading through the air. US researchers, who analysed 14 years of weather and pollen count data, found that pollen levels fell after if there was less than 10cm of rain
And rain DOESN’T always reduce pollen count
Some hay fever sufferers may be hoping the UK’s sunny forecast is replaced with showers in the hopes that wet weather will bring down sky-high pollen levels.
Light drizzle can stop pollen spreading through the air. US researchers, who analysed 14 years of weather and pollen count data, found that pollen levels fell if there was less than 10cm of rain — around a tenth of the UK’s annual rainfall.
But heavy rain can actually worsen hay fever symptoms. The US team found pollen increased if rain fall soared above 10 cm.
And healthcare data from South Korea shows people were more likely to visit their doctor due to hay fever after heavy rain or typhoons.
But the Met Office warns that heavy and prolonged rainfall can keep pollen counts low all day. Meanwhile, rain in the afternoon is less effective at bringing down pollen levels.
And while consistent rainfall over autumn and winter decreases pollen, intermittent wet days tends to trigger a more severe pollen season overall, as this encourages plants to grow and release more, it says.
While hay fever rates are higher among people in their teens and early twenties, researchers have said some people do not suffer any symptoms until they are in their seventies
You only get it when you’re YOUNG
Some unlucky people will develop hay fever later in life despite being unaffected by pollen throughout their childhood and early adulthood.
People can be predisposed to suffering hay fever — such as if they have a family history of allergies. But there is no way to know when they will first suffer from the condition.
While hay fever rates are higher among people in their teens and early twenties, researchers have said some people do not suffer any symptoms until they are in their seventies.
No-one knows exactly why hay fever can appear out of the blue but there are a number of theories.
Some experts say that older sufferers may have always had hay fever but their symptoms were not noticeable until later life.
Global warming is also thought to play a role as it extends summers, prolonging the period that pollen is released. This could exacerbate hay fever rates, with the number of sufferers doubling over the last three decades.
Studies suggest more hygienic modern living means our bodies are less able to bat off hay fever compared to our ancestors, as we are exposed to more disinfectants and cleaning products and pick up fewer infections from outdoors and animals.
And the Covid lockdown — which saw Britons isolated from others for months — may have weakened immunity even further, experts say. Working from home and having limited close contacts during the pandemic is a ‘plausible’ reason for why more people seem to be suffering hay fever in the last year, according to Professor Paul Hunter.