Thunderstorms Can Worsen Repiratory Illness

As steamy August days give way to the inevitable thunderstorm or two, older adults may be at greater risk for a respiratory problem leading up to a severe storm.  According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found a link between respiratory ER visits by Medicare patients and thunderstorms. 

The Washington Post recently reported that the study analyzed medicare and combined health insurance data associated with an acute respiratory diagnosis during an ER visit and lightening and atmospheric data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The large-scale study used data from 1999 to 2012; tracking more than 22 million ER visits and more than 822,000 days with major thunderstorms. 

In the days before a thunderstorm, older adults with respiratory illnesses including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease visited the emergency room more often.  Researchers believe that these conditions may be worsened by elevated temperatures and an increase in particulate matter that is inhaled.  With the escalation of climate change, experts expect severe storms to increase in the coming years. 

Earlier research has made the connection between thunderstorm activity and flares in asthma and allergy symptoms.  Winds during a storm can carry pollen and mold spores longer distances and pollen molecules may absorb water and then “explode” releasing particles with greater force and density.  Because molds thrive in moist environments, severe storms are likely to encourage mold growth. 

Learn more about “thunderstorm asthma” and how to control respiratory conditions when severe weather is forecast by following this link to a post by the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy