Staying healthy and COVID safe this grass pollen season

This spring it is more important than ever to speak to your doctor to manage your hay fever and asthma and if your symptoms are new or different to usual – you must get tested for coronavirus. 

Hay fever or asthma can produce symptoms similar to coronavirus such as a runny nose, cough or shortness of breath, and while good management can help prevent these, it is critical to get tested for coronavirus if these are different to your usual symptoms.   

Wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing and practicing good hand hygiene remain critical during the pollen season. People who are sneezing and coughing from hay fever or asthma may produce more droplets and if they have coronavirus, it could spread quickly. 

People with asthma and hay fever symptoms may also touch their face more frequently, increasing their risk of being infected with coronavirus if they are not practicing appropriate hand hygiene.

Grass pollen season officially begins on 1 October, bringing an increase in asthma and hay fever and the chance of thunderstorm asthma. Victoria’s thunderstorm asthma risk forecasting system will also be switched on and will run until the end of December. 

About thunderstorm asthma

Thunderstorm asthma is where many people experience asthma over a short period of time and is thought to be triggered by a type of thunderstorm when there are high amounts of grass pollen in the air. 

Those considered at risk of thunderstorm asthma include people with asthma or hay fever, including those with undiagnosed asthma. The best protection is to have good control of your asthma or hay fever and, where possible avoid exposure to springtime thunderstorms and the wind gusts that come before them. 

People with asthma, and particularly those with mild asthma, should see their GP to develop or review their asthma action plan and make sure any associated hay fever is well managed during the pollen season.

Thunderstorm astha forecast

Thunderstorm asthma risk forecasts will be available from 1 October on the VicEmergency app and website at emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#thunderstorm-asthma-forecast

How to protect yourself and manage your risk

All people at increased risk of thunderstorm asthma should:

  • avoid being outside during thunderstorms from October to December – especially in the wind gusts that come before the storm. Go inside and close your doors and windows, and if you have your air conditioner on, turn it to recirculate the air. 
  • have an asthma action plan – talk to your GP, and know the four steps of asthma first aid (download chart here)
  • have your reliever medication appropriately available in grass pollen season and be aware of how to use it (ideally with a spacer)
  • The Vic Emergency app (App Store or Google Play) allows you to set up a 'watch zone' for your location and receive advice and warnings about potential epidemic thunderstorm asthma events during the grass pollen season.

If you have hay fever only, see your GP or pharmacist about a hay fever treatment plan and what you can do to help protect yourself from the risk of thunderstorm asthma. This may include having an asthma reliever puffer – these are available from pharmacies without a prescription.

Where to get help

  • In an emergency, always call 000
  • Emergency department of your nearest hospital
  • Your GP
  • Your nearest pharmacy (for medication)
  • Nurse-On-Call: Phone 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice at all hours
  • National Home Doctor Service: Phone 13 SICK (13 7425) for after-hours home GP visits (bulked billed)
  • Asthma Australia Helpline: Phone 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462)

Call 000 if you are in distress, or you are with someone who:

  • finds it very difficult to breathe (gasping for air)
  • are unable to speak comfortably or if their lips are turning blue
  • has symptoms that get worse very quickly
  • are getting little or no relief from their reliever inhaler.

For more information, including learning asthma first aid, visit Better Health Channel/Thunderstorm Asthma.