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Thunderstorm Asthma

Have you ever noticed that the number of asthma-suffering children who seek help from the school nurse increases just after a storm front has moved through? A lot of factors play a role in the wide-spread exacerbation of individual asthmatic symptoms. But when we notice many of the children coming for their rescue inhaler seemingly all at once and just after a storm, we may be experiencing an anomaly known as Thunderstorm Asthma.

Imagine this scene: A deep, dark cloud is on the horizon. The warm air preceding the worsening weather front “pulls” dust, pollen, and fungal spores into the upper layers of the atmosphere and into the moisture of the clouds. These larger pieces of pollen and other particles are “chewed up” as they spin around in the moist environment. The cooler air on the other side of the front “drops” the smaller particle bits and pieces back to the earth.

Before the front moved through, the larger air pollutants were filtered out by the nose hairs and moist mucus membranes of our airway. Now, the smaller, finer pieces are able to make it into the deeper parts of our airway and even into the lungs. This, in turn, results in an increase in multiple acute bronchospasm cases, all within a local geographical area.

Do you remember the movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?” Remember the scene when little Nick  was being carried around the back yard’s “air space” by a honey bee and then dropped into a billowy pollen-filled flower.

Thunderstorm Asthma

[Nick Szalinski falls into a flower]

Amy Szalinski: “Nick, get out of there. You’re allergic to pollen.”

Nick: “It’s too big. I’m too little to breathe it in.”

[Nick sniffs the flower’s pollen; he does a little sneeze]

Fortunately, thunderstorm asthma is a rare event and does not happen with every storm. There are a lot of factors that must come into play for this anomaly to take place including the “right” aeroallergens mixing with the “right” meteorological features.

“An aeroallergen (aer·o·al·ler·gen) is any airborne substance, such as pollen or spores, which triggers an allergic reaction.”

A thunderstorm sometimes creates a river of of cold air flowing down from the cooler side of a storm front. The concentrated flow “packs” the aeroallergens into a localized area. As the susceptible souls find themselves in the wake of air that is highly concentrated with the broken and now respirable fragments of pollen and spores, flowing down after having been chewed up by the storm, many will suffer an exacerbation of asthma-related symptoms.

Many may become symptomatic all at once, followed by an increased use of emergency inhalers, quick-care visits, and even hospitalizations.


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Nurse Kevin
Nurse Kevin is a school nurse who takes care of school children in Southwestern Idaho. Nurse Kevin authors content for many different websites including,,,,,