Department of Health

Staying safe in grass pollen season

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Grass pollen season has officially begun, bringing an increase in asthma and hay fever and the chance of epidemic thunderstorm asthma.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said Victoria's epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk forecasting system was also switched on today, providing its first forecast of the season, which runs until the end of December.

"We want everyone, particularly those with asthma or hay fever, to be as prepared as they can for the grass pollen season," Dr Sutton said.

"The best way to protect yourself from thunderstorm asthma is through good management of asthma and hay fever."

Dr Sutton said following the forecasting system can assist people to protect themselves, but shouldn't replace good asthma and hay fever care.

"Those at risk should always follow their asthma or hay fever treatment plan," he said.

"Where possible, people with asthma and hay fever should also avoid exposure to springtime thunderstorms, especially the wind gusts that precede them."

Epidemic thunderstorm asthma is an uncommon phenomenon where many people experience asthma over a short period of time and is thought to be triggered by a particular type of thunderstorm when there are high amounts of grass pollen in the air.

While these events are uncommon, when they do occur, they do so between October and the end of December.

Dr Sutton said people with asthma or hay fever are at risk of thunderstorm asthma, including those with undiagnosed asthma.

"It can result in symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, feeling tight in the chest, or experiencing persistent coughing. It can be sudden, serious and even life-threatening," he said.

"Even if you don't think you have asthma, don't ignore symptoms as they may indicate that you have asthma - check with your GP."

In November 2016, an unprecedented epidemic thunderstorm asthma event led to thousands of people developing breathing difficulties in a very short period. It was the largest incident of its type ever recorded in the world.

Find out how to protect yourself this pollen season by visiting the Better Health Channel.

Epidemic thunderstorm asthma risk forecasts are available on the VicEmergency website and app.

Pollen observations and forecasts are available at the Melbourne Pollen and Deakin AIRwatch websites and via the Melbourne Pollen Count App.

Reviewed 30 September 2019


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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