What to do during a thunderstorm if you react to pollens and molds


Thunderstorms may cause grains of grass pollen such as these to burst into pieces small enough to travel into the lungs and cause asthma attacks. (From Susan Kosisky, U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory)

As the grass pollen season retreats in the Washington area, weeds make their advance from August through October, providing more fodder for thunderstorm asthma. Molds are a consistent problem even through November, especially in rainy weather.

“When it rains, it spores,” Susan Kosisky, chief microbiologist with the U.S. Army Centralized Allergen Extract Laboratory in Silver Spring, likes to say.

Here are a few ways experts suggest to minimize the risk of thunderstorm asthma:

First, know what you’re allergic to, said Elizabeth Matsui, a Johns Hopkins professor who chairs the committee on environmental exposures and respiratory health for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

An allergist can determine susceptibility using skin tests, or your primary-care doctor can investigate with blood tests. If you are susceptible to pollens and molds, you can manage the condition with the help of your doctor and by reducing your exposure. Sometimes, Matsui said, a patient’s medications can be adjusted before pollen season sets in.

Lighting strikes over the Empire State Building as a major storm moves in. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

One study noted a higher risk of thunderstorm asthma for those who are outside during a thunderstorm. So, of course, if you’re susceptible, it’s sensible to stay inside. To avoid pollen and mold exposure, Matsui recommends: keeping windows closed; running the air conditioner, which serves as a filtration device; showering from head to toe before turning in for the night so you don’t bring the allergen into bed with you; and washing your bedding on regular basis. It’s also wise to carry a rescue inhaler.

And should you find yourself coughing or having breathing difficulties related to a thunderstorm, take action. Use your rescue inhaler, Matsui said, and if the symptoms are severe, consider an urgent visit to the doctor’s office or an emergency room.

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