New details have emerged about the increased risk of critical asthma symptoms for some groups of Asian migrants and descendants in Australia during thunderstorms.
The details are contained in a report from the Victorian government. Analysts are urging people in the higher-risk groups to take extra care.
Growing up, Anna Kim Anderson had never suffered from asthma.
That all changed in one stormy Melbourne evening eight years ago.
“I was having difficulty breathing. I felt a bit wheezy. I had a tight chest. And because I'd never had asthma before, I didn't understand what it was.”
Ms Anderson was experiencing a thunderstorm-asthma attack.
Thunderstorm asthma is a severe form of asthma that is life-threatening and activated by rare weather events.
Since her first attack in 2010, Ms Anderson suffered another one in 2016.
She says, when she reached the hospital, she realised she was not alone.
"I was very low on oxygen. They took me straight into ICU.* There was a whole room full of Asians and Indians who had suffered the same attack as me."
A Victorian government health report has found Ms Anderson is just one of the thousands of people of East or South Asian background who have developed new allergies and experienced asthma attacks after migrating to Australia.
Professor Frank Thien, director of respiratory medicine at Monash University's Eastern Health Clinical School, was one of the scientists behind the new findings.
He says the Asian heritage is a factor.
“People of Asian origin and Indian origin coming to Australia, migrating to Australia, do have increased risk of allergies, particularly hay fever and asthma, and that risk increases with the duration of stay in Australia.”
Extreme weather events also dramatically increase the risk.
The study revealed, during severe thunderstorms in Victoria in 2016, almost two in five patients with asthma symptoms who presented to emergency rooms were born in East Asia or the Indian subcontinent.
The study finds it made them five times as likely to be admitted to hospital. Of the 10 people who died during the disaster, six were of East and South Asian descent. Analysts are still unsure why such people are more susceptible to allergies, but studies show even those people born in Australia to Asian parents are more likely to develop allergies than people with non-Asian parents.
Research suggests genetic predispositions, as well as exposure to different pollens and grasses from those parts of Asia, could be major contributing factors.
With grass pollen season in Victoria running from early October through December, Deputy Chief Health Officer Angie Bone is urging people from East and South Asian backgrounds to be prepared.
“People can take protective actions, like making sure they've got their inhaler with them, staying indoors should a thunderstorm occur, closing the windows to stop the pollen coming inside.”
Victoria's Department of Health says dry conditions so far this year in wide-ranging parts of Australia mean an asthma thunderstorm is less likely.
Dr Sachin Dahiya is General Practitioner in Melbourne.
He told SBS Hindi, “It’s important to understand how thunderstorm asthma works and what symptoms it has.”
Dr Dahiya says “if you have not talked to your GP and updated your asthma management plan please do it now.”