Frequently Asked Questions

What caused the Thunderstorm Asthma event in November 2016?

The people affected by the Thunderstorm Asthma event were allergic to rye grass pollen.

Early in the Spring of 2016 rainfall was above average and grasses grew longer than usual. In November, at the peak of the hay fever season, large amounts of pollen were present in and around Melbourne.

On 21 November, a particular type of thunderstorm occurred involving an outflow tract. As the storm moved towards and across Melbourne from the West, it swept up large numbers of pollen grains. The grains absorbed moisture from the storm clouds, causing them to rupture. Each pollen grain can release hundreds of tiny allergenic particles following rupture and these particles are able to be inhaled easily into the lower airways (whereas the larger grains are usually filtered by the nose and are too large to penetrate to the lower airways) where they trigger an allergic response in susceptible individuals. Pollen was then dumped down to ground level and blown horizontally by the storm outflow, covering a large geographic area.

Rye grass allergy is common and usually manifests as hay fever during Spring. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma are similar, closely-related conditions. A proportion of the people affected by the Thunderstorm Asthma event had never experienced asthma symptoms before, but many of them had a history of allergic rhinitis.

The weather conditions leading up to 21 November 2016 resulted in large quantities of microscopic rye grass pollen particles spread across Melbourne and inhaled by people with allergic sensitisation. The result was an epidemic of acute asthma.

Dr Adrian Chazan

MBBS MELB FRACP

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Dr Chazan is a Respiratory & Sleep Physician, and General Physician. Born in Melbourne, he undertook his basic medical training at the University of Melbourne. With a passion for sleep and breathing, he trained at world-renowned centres of excellence in Melbourne and Sydney, including Westmead Hospital, the Alfred Hospital and Monash Medical Centre. Adrian has been involved in research activities in the fields of sleep apnoea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and exercise physiology.

Adrian utilises the latest findings in sleep research as well as the emerging technologies in diagnosis and treatment. He takes a patient-centered approach to medical care with the aim of empowering his patients to achieve better sleep and optimal long-term health outcomes.

Dr Rajiv Sharma

MBBS MD FRACP

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Dr Sharma completed his basic physician training in St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. Subsequently he trained in Respiratory Medicine at The Canberra Hospital and Sleep Medicine at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. Prior to relocating to Melbourne, he worked as a full time Respiratory & Sleep Medicine staff specialist at Townsville Hospital. Rajiv enjoys managing all aspects of Respiratory and Sleep disorders including Asthma, COPD, interstitial lung disease, chronic cough, lung nodules, sleep apnoea, hypersomnolence, restless legs syndrome and other non-respiratory sleep disorders.

He also has a special interest in interventional pulmonology (bronchoscopic techniques). Dr Sharma also has keen interest and experience in medical education and research and has been involved in these areas for a number of years.

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