Previous research has shown an association between individual thunderstorm events in the presence of high pollen, commonly called thunderstorm asthma, and acute severe asthma events, but little work has studied risk over long periods of time, using detailed measurements of storms and pollen.
We estimated change in the risk of asthma-related emergency room visits related to thunderstorm asthma events in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area over the years 2007–2018. We defined thunderstorm asthma events as daily occurrence of two or more lightning strikes during high pollen periods interpolating weather and pollen monitor data and modeling lightning counts. We acquired daily counts of asthma-related emergency department visits from the Minnesota Hospital Association and used a quasi-Poisson time-series regression to estimate overall relative risk of emergency department visits during thunderstorm asthma events.
We observed a 1.047 times higher risk (95% confidence interval = 1.012, 1.083) of asthma-related emergency department visits on the day of thunderstorm asthma event. Our findings are robust to adjustment for temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, ozone, PM2.5, day of week, and seasonal variation in asthma cases. Occurrence of lightning alone or pollen alone showed no association with the risk of severe asthma. A two-stage analysis combining individual zip code-level results shows similar RR, and we see no evidence of spatial correlation or spatial heterogeneity of effect.
Our results support an association between co-occurrence of lightning and pollen and risk of severe asthma events. Our approach incorporates lightning and pollen data and small-spatial area exposure and outcome counts.