COVID-19 warning as allergy season strikes

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 05 October 2020

Health experts warn asthma and hay-fever sufferers to be vigilant this allergy season. 

As Victoria enters its peak grass-pollen season, those prone to asthma and hay fever are warned to take extra care to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Health experts warn that coughing and sneezing due to hay fever or asthma are at increased risk of producing droplets that could spread the virus.

Woman wearing a mask standing near cherry blossom trees

Coughing and sneezing due to hay fever or asthma could increase the risk of spreading coronavirus.


It is more important than ever to properly manage your hay fever and asthma this pollen season.

Those suffering hay fever and asthma may also touch their face more frequently, placing them at higher risk of infection, unless practising strict hand hygiene. 

“This is not an ordinary spring,” says health minister Martin Foley. “It is more important than ever to properly manage your hay fever and asthma this pollen season and check in with your GP to make sure your asthma action plan is up to date.” 

He says it is critically important that everyone in the community maintains physical distancing, good hand hygiene and wears a mask.  

Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton also warned allergy sufferers to be alert to any unusual symptoms. “If you have symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath or runny nose, and these symptoms are different to your usual hay fever or asthma symptoms – get tested for coronavirus and stay home until you receive your results.” 

There are measures you can take to minimise the risk of hay fever, asthma and thunderstorm asthma, such as checking the daily pollen count and thunderstorm asthma risk app; as well as taking a St John Ambulance Australia online course on first aid for asthma. 

St John’s Ambulance training team leader Katie Van Woerkom says Victoria’s high pollen count and fast-changing weather conditions make this one of the worst regions in the world for asthma, with an estimated one in nine people suffering from the condition.  

The National Asthma Council Australia warns of heightened risks of hay fever, asthma and thunderstorm asthma between now and December due to high levels of rye grass pollen and other allergens such as fungi and dust across south-eastern Australia. 

Spokeswoman Marg Gordon says thunderstorm asthma is a major fear after 10 people died and thousands of others suffered severe asthma triggered by a storm on 21 November, 2016. 

Not every thunderstorm is a danger, she says. It must be a thunderstorm with winds running in front of the storm and with moisture that bursts grass pollen into tiny particles which then bypass filters in the nose to be inhaled directly into the airways. 

She says the predicted heavy rainfall this season could worsen the risk by promoting grass growth. Before the 2016 thunderstorm asthma tragedy there was high rainfall in the grass and crop areas of western Victoria, she says.  

Marg Gordon’s seven tips for staying safe: 

  • Check with your GP on your asthma treatment plan and follow it, including using preventative medication. 
  • Always carry an asthma reliever. 
  • Keep informed of pollen counts and thunderstorm asthma warnings. 
  • If it’s windy, there’s a thunderstorm or a high pollen count then stay inside if possible. 
  • When inside, close the windows and set your air conditioner to recycle air. 
  • Avoid being outdoors just before and during thunderstorms, especially in wind gusts before rain arrives. Get inside a building or car with the windows shut and the air-conditioner switched to recirculate/recycled. 
  • Hay fever can trigger asthma in people who haven’t had it before

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