Thunderstorm asthma

Project summary

Thunderstorm asthma killed six young people in Melbourne two months ago and increased by 10X the respiratory distress incidents at Melbourne ERs. Previous incidents have been similarly dangerous globally. There is no proven cause, but it is believed that pollen pulled up into a thunderstorm is ruptured and highly allergenic nanoparticles are created that can harm even people without previous asthma symptoms. No published work has determined the cause of such health impacts because of the difficulty of working with the particles and connecting the physical and biological data. Given the increased volatility of weather as climate change progresses, and the broadening complexity of global health response in the respiratory sector, it is critical that we understand the cause of thunderstorm asthma and develop a means of detecting the precursors to such an incident.

Project objectives

  • Studying the behavior of pollen grains under sharp gradients in pressure and humidity
  • Use of room-temperature plasma to systematically degrade pollen to mimic cloud charging
  • Testing of inhalation and deposition and response of biological surfaces to pollen catalysts