WITH this week marking the start of the pollen season, our asthma and hayfever sufferers are being urged to take precautions to avoid serious illnesses.
A new world-first alert system has been launched in Victoria in a bid to prevent another thunderstorm asthma disaster like the one in Melbourne last year that killed nine.
Although there were no cases in Echuca last year, it was still busy for Echuca hospital’s emergency department, with 231 asthma presentations.
The year before there were 162 admissions, while there have been 130 so far this year.
Echuca GP Suzanne Harrison, who is also a hayfever sufferer, said she saw many extra cases of asthma last year.
‘‘Personally, I’m hoping the pollen season will not be as bad this year, as it has not been as wet so hopefully less grasses,’’ she said.
Dr Harrison said the real issues with thunderstorm asthma appeared to be untreated hayfever.
‘‘Ninety per cent of the cases seen in Melbourne last year had a past history of hayfever. Only 4-5 per cent had a history of asthma,’’ she said.
‘‘For those with asthma, not using preventer medication was a risk factor. This is a year-round problem with undertreated asthma — people using Ventolin (or similar) often much more than recommended, but not having a medical review.’’
If there is a thunderstorm approaching during pollen season, Dr Harrison advised hayfever and asthma sufferers to remain inside a closed house/vehicle.
The new system will give residents up to three days’ warning of conditions that could cause deadly thunderstorm asthma.
Part of a $15 million joint effort by the Victorian Government in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology and Melbourne and Deakin universities, it takes into account weather conditions, hospital presentations and pollen levels, with the aid of five new pollen monitoring sites.
A website and app provide forecasts, information and alerts about potential thunderstorm asthma conditions.
Moama Village Pharmacy pharmacist Clint Flanigan said there was a noticeable spike of asthma at this time of year.
‘‘Unfortunately, this can be worsened in our area due to the dry air, increased wind and dust compared with other regional areas,’’ he said.
And people under the age of 10 and over 65 are the most vulnerable.
‘‘Last year’s events were a horrible and unfortunate reminder of the severity of asthma in all age groups,’’ Mr Flanigan said.
While asthma only affected some people seasonally, Mr Flanigan said it was a chronic condition that required consistent management to optimise the therapy.
‘‘Therefore, for those routinely requiring reliever (Ventolin) therapy, we strongly recommend a review with their GP, consider preventative therapy and develop an asthma management plan,’’ he said.