Remembering May 20th, 5 years later
Temperatures to climb back up over the next few days

Thunder fever: a potentially deadly combination of asthma and allergies and the potential risk in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY - In our state, we know storm season can lead to a barrage of devastating problems, but this is one you may have never heard of.

We're talking about 'thunder fever.'

In 2016, 8,500 Australians were hospitalized and nine died of severe asthma attacks after thunderstorms tore across Melbourne.

But, how does this happen and could something similar happen here?

Dr. Jason Bellak with the Oklahoma Institute of Allergy and Asthma said, with the high pollen count and high humidity we see this time of year, if you have improperly managed allergy or asthma symptoms, it really can result in the perfect storm for thunder fever.

"Even patients with milder symptoms - this type of scenario can push them over the edge," Bellak said.

He said, in the 24-48 hours after a storm, he sees and increase in visits to his office.

The reason? Pure yet somewhat simple science.

In the 20-30 minutes before a thunder storm, there's higher humidity - causing pollen to absorb moisture and explode into tiny particles that get carried into the air.

"When the wind is heavy and blowing around and right before the thunder storm hits, this phenomenon will happen," Bellak said.

Once you breathe in that pollen, the symptoms are similar to that of hay fever - sneezing, itching, sore eyes and a runny nose. In the worst cases though, patients experience serious breathing problems and need emergency care.

"These particles are so small, they get deeper in the lungs that would normally happen so patients that maybe even have never had asthma may have asthma symptoms," Bellak said.

The moral of the story? Stay indoors in that window of time before the storm, and be prepared.

"So, knowing what your risk factors are and being able to treat those with not only avoidance but also appropriate medications and immuno-therapy will allow people to live a fuller life and stay out of the danger," Bellak said.