While a relationship between thunderstorms and increased hospital visits for asthma attacks has been known and studied worldwide for years, this is the first time a team of climatologists and epidemiologists has ever conducted a detailed study of the phenomenon in the American South.
The team, studying a database consisting of more than 10 million emergency room visits in some 41 hospitals in a 20-county area in and around Atlanta for the period between 1993 and 2004, found a three percent higher incidence of visits for asthma attacks on days following thunderstorms.
"While a three percent increase in risk may seem modest, asthma is quite prevalent in Atlanta, and a modest relative increase could have a significant public health impact for a region with more than five million people," said Andrew Grundstein, a climatologist in the department of geography at UGA and lead author on the research. Grundstein went on to say that "three percent is likely conservative because of limitations in this study."
The next step for the UGA and Emory team will be, for the first time, to apply Doppler radar, modeling and observational data to the "thunderstorm asthma" problem based on what Grundstein calls an intriguing initial finding. He points out that "radar data coupled with the metro Atlanta database will allow us to correlate thunderstorm-asthma interactions that we are probably missing today."
Paige Tolbert, professor and chair of the department of environmental and occupational health in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory and a co-author of the just-published study, said the expertise of the two universities came together strongly in studying the problem.
"The Emory team has experience with a comprehensive emergency department database, and the UGA team can provide a much more refined characterization of thunderstorms than was performed in the previous studies of this question," she said. "The study will thus provide new insight into the mechanisms under the phenomenon of thunderstorm-induced asthma."
The research was published in the online edition of the medical journal Thorax. Other authors of the paper include: Marshall Shepherd and Thomas Mote from the UGA department of geography; Luke Naeher from the UGA department of environmental health science; and Stefanie Ebelt Sarnat and Mitchell Klein, who along with Tolbert are from the department of environmental and occupational health in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory.
About 20 million Americans have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. There has also been a dramatic increase in reported cases of the disease, with its prevalence increasing 75 percent between 1980 and 1994. Some 5,000 Americans die annually from asthma attacks.
Approximately 210,000 Georgia children under the age of 17 have asthma, according to the Division of Public Health of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Some 65 percent of that number had an attack within the last year.
While associations between thunderstorm activity and asthma deaths and emergency room visits have been reported around the world, virtually no studies have been done in the American South, where hundreds of thousands suffer from asthma and thunderstorms are prevalent.
Some people may find it odd that thunderstorms, which supposedly "clear the air" of pollen and pollutants, are implicated in asthma attacks. The most prominent hypothesis as to why it happens, the authors of the paper say, is that "pollen grains may rupture upon contact with rainwater, releasing respirable allergens, and that gusty winds from thunderstorm downdrafts spread particles . . . which may ultimately increase the risk of asthma attacks."
The team used thunderstorm occurrences from meteorological data gathered at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and compared that information with the vast database of emergency room visits to arrive at the figure of a three percent increase in asthma-related emergency room visits following thunderstorms for the study period.
In all, during the 11-year period, there were 564 thunderstorm days, and in order to better understand the physical mechanisms that relate thunderstorms and asthma, the team also mined the information on total daily rainfall and maximum five-second wind gusts, which they used as "a surrogate for thunderstorm downdrafts and to indicate the maximum wind speed of the storm."
In all, there were 215,832 asthma emergency room visits during the period and 28,350 of these occurred on days following thunderstorms. While the new study is the first of its kind in the South and does clearly indicate a relationship between thunderstorms and asthma in the metro Atlanta area, much more work remains, Grundstein said.
"Obtaining a better understanding of the mechanistic basis of the phenomenon of thunderstorm-induced asthma will allow for better intervention strategies and improved emergencies services planning," said Stefanie Ebelt Sarnat of Emory. "This will be particularly important in the era of climate change."
Grundstein added that in the Atlanta area conditions favorable for an estimated doubling of severe thunderstorms are expected within this century.
Kim Osborne | EurekAlert!
WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences