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Allergy. 2007 Jan;62(1):11-6.

Thunderstorm-asthma and pollen allergy.

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Division of Pneumology and Allergology, Department of Respiratory Diseases, High Speciality Hospital A. Cardarelli, Napoli, Italy.


Thunderstorms have been linked to asthma epidemics, especially during the pollen seasons, and there are descriptions of asthma outbreaks associated with thunderstorms, which occurred in several cities, prevalently in Europe (Birmingham and London in the UK and Napoli in Italy) and Australia (Melbourne and Wagga Wagga). Pollen grains can be carried by thunderstorm at ground level, where pollen rupture would be increased with release of allergenic biological aerosols of paucimicronic size, derived from the cytoplasm and which can penetrate deep into lower airways. In other words, there is evidence that under wet conditions or during thunderstorms, pollen grains may, after rupture by osmotic shock, release into the atmosphere part of their content, including respirable, allergen-carrying cytoplasmic starch granules (0.5-2.5 microm) or other paucimicronic components that can reach lower airways inducing asthma reactions in pollinosis patients. The thunderstorm-asthma outbreaks are characterized, at the beginning of thunderstorms by a rapid increase of visits for asthma in general practitioner or hospital emergency departments. Subjects without asthma symptoms, but affected by seasonal rhinitis can experience an asthma attack. No unusual levels of air pollution were noted at the time of the epidemics, but there was a strong association with high atmospheric concentrations of pollen grains such as grasses or other allergenic plant species. However, subjects affected by pollen allergy should be informed about a possible risk of asthma attack at the beginning of a thunderstorm during pollen season.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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