What is thunder fever? Symptoms, how it impacts hayfever and asthma sufferers - and ‘super pollen’ explained

The extreme weather phenomenon was given its name when nine people died from asthma attacks after thunderstorms in 2017

Hayfever and asthma sufferers are being warned that they may experience particularly severe symptoms due to a weather phenomenon known as thunder fever.

Thunder fever, which could be fatal in some circumstances, occurs when there are both thunderstorms and a high pollen count.

The Met Office expects tropical Storm Alex to hit the UK later this week, and also predicts that pollen counts are likely to be high across the country, and as a result hayfever and asthma sufferers are being advised to prepare not only for extreme weather but also for extreme allergy symptoms too.

So, just what is thunder fever, how does it impact hayfever and asthma sufferers and how can you protect yourself from the worst symptoms of it?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is thunder fever?

Thunder fever is an extreme form of hayfever.

It refers to specific thunderstorm and super pollen conditions that combine to increase the chances of hayfever and asthma sufferers experiencing symptoms which are particularly intense.

Asthma sufferers are also at risk of having an asthma attack due to thunder fever.

What is hayfever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen.

It occurs typically when pollen comes into contact with a person’s mouth, nose, eyes and throat.

Hayfever causes a number of symptoms, including:

  • sneezing and coughing
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • loss of smell
  • pain around your temples and forehead
  • headache
  • earache
  • feeling tired

There is no cure for hayfever. For more information about it, visit the NHS website.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties.

There are a number of symptoms of asthma, including:

  • a tight feeling in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing and coughing

There is no cure for asthma. For more information about it, visit the NHS website.

What are the symptoms of thunder fever and how can I treat it?

The symptoms of thunder fever are the same as hayfever and asthma, but more severe.

You can treat thunder fever using the same medicines used to treat these two conditions, such as antihistamines, nasal spray, eye drops and an inhaler.

How does thunder fever impact hayfever and asthma sufferers?

Thunder fever makes the symptoms of hayfever and asthma worse.

During pollen season, which typically runs from late March to late September, if there is a thunderstorm then the strong winds will blow lots of pollen high into the air.

The air before a storm can also feel very humid and close, and a combination of these two factors can lead to asthma sufferers feeling a tightness in their chest.

This can mean they then find it harder to breathe, and that could be life-threatening.

Sonia Munde of Asthma UK said an estimated 3.3million Brits had their asthma triggered by pollen.

She said: "Thunderstorms can have a devastating impact on people with asthma and trigger an asthma attack which could be fatal.

"Humid, stormy conditions break the pollen into much smaller particles, which are then inhaled more deeply into the lungs and can lead to life-threatening asthma attacks."

Where did the name thunder fever come from?

The weather phenomenon has been dubbed thunder fever after nine people died from asthma attacks after thunderstorms spread across Melbourne, Australia, in 2017.

What is super pollen?

Pollen is a fine powder from plants.

Super pollen occurs when high humidity splits pollen grains into tiny, highly potent particles.

It is said to be more allergenic than normal pollen and causes more severe reactions in hayfever sufferers.

For more information about the pollen count in your local area, visit the Met Office pollen forecast web page.

What steps can people take to reduce the effects of thunder fever?

There are a number of ways that hayfever and asthma sufferers can protect themselves against the most intense effects of thunder fever.

They are:

  • Use preventative medication such as eye drops and nasal spray regularly.
  • Always carry an asthma inhaler.
  • Keep up to date with pollen counts and weather forecasts during spring and early summer so you know about potential storms.
  • Talk to your doctor to make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date and includes thunderstorm advice.
  • Avoid being outdoors just before and during thunderstorms, especially in wind gusts before the rain.
  • Remain inside a building or car with the windows shut for as long as you can.
  • Use an air conditioner or purifier if possible, and have it set to recirculate or recycle.
  • Wear sunglasses when you go outside to stop the pollen getting into your eyes.
  • Shower regularly, particularly after being outdoors, to remove pollen from your hair.