By Dr. Mercola
Dust mites, animal dander, molds, and pollen are among the most common environmental triggers of asthma attacks and allergy symptoms. For some, however, a spring or summer thunderstorm may lead to a flare-up of symptoms.
Research shows an association between thunderstorm activity and worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms; one study found a 3 percent increase in emergency-room visits for asthma attacks in the 24 hours following thunderstorms.1 As the researchers explained:
"While a three percent increase in risk may seem modest, asthma is quite prevalent… and a modest relative increase could have a significant public health impact in the population."
What Causes Thunderstorm Asthma?
The phenomenon, known as "thunderstorm asthma," isn't so much an issue of people being allergic to rain. Instead, thunderstorms form the "perfect storm," literally, of circumstances to increase breathing difficulties. Researchers wrote in the journal Thorax:2
"The most prominent hypotheses explaining the associations are that pollen grains rupture by osmotic shock in rainwater, releasing allergens, and that gusty winds from thunderstorm downdrafts spread particles and/or aeroallergens, which may ultimately increase the risk of asthma attacks."
In other words, pollen and mold particles that may otherwise be too big to get into your lungs (and instead tend to cause mostly nose-related symptoms) suddenly become broken up by a thunderstorm. This allows entrance into the lungs, potentially leading to an asthmatic reaction, even in some people who have never had asthma before.
It's also been suggested that storms' electrical charge makes tiny pollen and mold particles stickier, increasing the likelihood that they'll cause trouble in your lungs once inhaled.3 As written in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports:4
"The weather system of a mature thunderstorm likely entrains grass pollen into the cloud base, where pollen rupture would be enhanced, then transports the respirable-sized fragments of pollen debris to ground level where outflows distribute them ahead of the rain.
The conditions occurring at the onset of a thunderstorm might expose susceptible people to a rapid increase in concentrations of pollen allergens in the air that can readily deposit in the lower airways and initiate asthmatic reactions."
So what can you do? Pay attention to weather reports, especially if you've experienced thunderstorm asthma before. Although the condition is relatively uncommon, it's known to strike without warning, so if a thunderstorm is coming, stay indoors and close up your windows to avoid unnecessary exposure to ruptured pollen grains.
Your Mind May Trigger Asthma Symptoms
If it seems surprising that a thunderstorm would trigger asthma and allergy symptoms, then you'll probably be shocked to learn that your mind may do so, too.
In one recent study, asthmatics were exposed to a harmless odor (phenylethyl alcohol, a rosy, pure scent that has no known harmful properties). One group was told the odor was therapeutic while a second group was told the odor might cause respiratory issues.
There were marked differences in how the two groups reacted to the scent, with those who believed the odor was harmful experiencing significantly more airway inflammation. Furthermore, the elevated levels of inflammation stayed that way for 24 hours, which in turn might increase sensitivity to other asthma triggers, resulting in a negative cascade effect.5
Meanwhile, the group who was told the odor was therapeutic had no increase in airway inflammation, even among those who said they were highly sensitive to many odors.
Considering that strong odors, including perfumes, deodorants, cleaning supplies, scented candles, hair spray, personal care products, and more, are widely publicized as potential asthma triggers, could it be that asthmatics' expectation of harm when exposed to these scents is part of the problem?
The study's lead author, Cristina Jaén, Ph.D., noted,6 "It's not just what you smell, but also what you think you smell." The study suggests that managing fear and anxiety about asthma triggers may help to improve your symptoms. This isn't as far-fetched as it may initially seem, as strong emotions are a recognized asthma trigger that may lead to rapid breathing and more.7 This includes:
- Laughing or crying too hard
- Feeling stressed or anxious
The helps explain why the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) has been demonstrated to be helpful in about 80 percent of asthma cases. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over five thousand years, but without the invasiveness of needles.
You can use EFT directed toward your asthma symptoms or to help relieve emotional trauma that may be causing you chronic stress. You can also use it to eliminate phobias you may have about certain triggers causing you an asthma attack.
Tapping with EFT has been shown to alter conditioned responses, such that, if you've become conditioned to experience asthma symptoms in response to various triggers, it might help you to break free.
Got Asthma? Try Buteyko Breathing
Exposing Babies to Dust Mites, Pet Dander, and Other Allergens May Reduce Asthma and Allergy Risk
A child raised in an environment devoid of dirt and germs, and who is given antibiotics that kill off all of the bacteria in his gut, is not able to build up natural resistance to disease, and becomes vulnerable to illnesses later in life. This theory, known as the hygiene hypothesis, is likely one reason why many allergies and immune-system diseases have doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled in the last few decades, and now new research is further backing it up. One study, presented at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark, exposed babies to oral dust-mite drops twice a day from the age of 6 months to 18 months.8
Dust mites are one of the most common allergens in the US and the UK, and are a common trigger for asthma symptoms as well. Remarkably, the dust-mite exposure reduced the incidence of allergy by 63 percent, and this was among infants at high risk of allergy (they had a history of allergy in both parents). Among the infants exposed to dust mites, only 9.4 percent developed allergy to dust mites or other allergens, compared to more than 25 percent in the placebo group.
In a separate study, researchers found that urban babies exposed to cockroach, mouse, and cat allergens (via house dust), as well as to certain types of bacteria, during their first year of life were less likely to suffer from wheezing and allergies at the age of 3.9 In fact, wheezing was three times more common among children who grew up in homes without allergen exposure. Dr. Todd Mahr, an allergist-immunologist and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Section on Allergy & Immunology, told WebMD:10 "The environment appears to play a role, and if you have too clean of an environment the child's immune system is not going to be stimulated."
Why Does Your Immune System Need Dirt to Stay Healthy?
Your immune system is composed of two main groupst's not just what you sm that work together to protect you. One part of your immune system deploys specialized white blood cells called Th1 lymphocytes, which direct an assault on infected cells throughout your body. The other major part of your immune system attacks intruders even earlier. It produces antibodies that try to block dangerous microbes from invading your body's cells in the first place. This latter strategy uses a different variety of white blood cells, called Th2 lymphocytes. The Th2 system also happens to drive allergic responses to foreign organisms.
At birth, an infant's immune system appears to rely primarily on the Th2 system, while waiting for the Th1 system to grow stronger. But the hygiene hypothesis suggests that the Th1 system can grow stronger only if it gets "exercise," either through fighting infections or through encounters with certain harmless microbes. Without such stimulation, the Th2 system flourishes and the immune system tends to react with allergic responses more easily.
In other words, the hygiene hypothesis posits that children and adults not being exposed to viruses and other environmental factors like dirt, germs, parasites, and even certain viruses results in their not being able to build up resistance, which makes them more vulnerable to illnesses. In addition to allergies and asthma, eczema, autoimmune diseases, and even heart disease11 have been associated with the hygiene hypotheses. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid being "too clean," and in turn help bolster your body's natural immune responses. Try:
- Letting your child get dirty. Allow your kids to play outside and get dirty (and realize that if your kid eats boogers, it isn't the end of the world).
- Not using antibacterial soaps and other antibacterial household products, which wipe out the microorganisms that your body needs to be exposed to for developing and maintaining proper immune function. Simple soap and water are all you need when washing your hands. The antibacterial chemicals (typically triclosan) are quite toxic and have even been found to promote the growth of resistant bacteria.
- Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics. Remember that viral infections are impervious to antibiotics, as antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
- Serving locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics.
- Educating yourself on the differences between natural and artificial immunity, and making informed decisions about the use of vaccinations.