An Asthma Attack Caused by a Thunderstorm (McGill OSS)

1 minute read

On November 21st, 2016 a thunderstorm swept across Melbourne, Australia. It brought with it the usual flooded basements, wet shoes and ruined picnics, but it also brought a strange outbreak of asthma. Asthmatics and non-asthmatics alike suddenly found themselves unable to catch their breath, coughing and in extreme cases not being able to breathe at all. By the time the storm had passed, there was a 672% increase in respiratory-related presentations to emergency departments and a 992% increase in asthma-related admissions to hospital. The storm contributed to the death of at least 10 people.

So what was it about this thunderstorm that spurred a city-wide asthma attack? Experts aren’t certain, but the best guess is pollen. It seems that polled, mould and other allergens can get picked up into a storm, riding on wind currents, and carried into the clouds. Up in the sky, they make contact with water molecules, which causes these allergens to break apart into microscopic particles that can more readily enter human lungs and cause reactions. 
In the case of Melbourne, the allergen of importance seems to be from ryegrass. A grain of ryegrass pollen can be broken down into 700 starch granules, measuring 0.6 to 2.5 μm, which may then be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs, and cause an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.

As roughly 20% of the world is sensitive to grass or tree pollens, you can imagine that these storms are quite bothersome to many. Melbourne wasn’t the first case of casualties due to storm inflicted asthma, and it sadly will probably not be the last. 

Article originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/thunderstorms-cause-asthma-attacks

Your Allergies Are Getting Worse Because of Climate Change

Photo by Matteo Zamaria Photography
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/your-allergies-are-getting-worse-because-climate-change

If you feel like your recent periods of coughing, sneezing and shaking your fists at the trees for producing so much pollen are getting longer, you’re probably right.

It seems that climate change is having an effect on the duration of plants’ pollination seasons. Warmer and wetter winters are allowing pollination to start earlier and last longer, sometimes as much as 27 days longerChanging carbon dioxide levels in the air can also affect how much pollen plants produce… and it’s not going down. The net effect is longer, harsher seasons for allergy sufferers.

Seasonal allergies were first reported around the time of the industrial revolution, though we’re not certain why they sprang up then. It could be that the rapid urbanization and increase in human greenhouse gas emissions triggered the phenomenon of seasonal allergies. Even now, pollen allergies are on the rise in urban centres. As the temperature increases, due to our elevated emissions, allergenic species are able to migrate into areas they previously couldn’t thrive in. This results in new allergies as well as worsening of previously existing ones. Pollen counts are raised by windy and dry conditions,and lowered by wet and cooler ones, so staying indoors on the hottest of spring days is a good idea. You might also want to consider what you can do to mitigate climate change. After all, the climate is unequivocallyundeniably changing. And not for the better.

Under The Microscope: Rose Petals

Originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/history/under-microscope-rose-petals

Nowadays roses are mostly used for Bachelorette ceremonies and hipster lattes, but once upon a time roses, and their fruit, rose hips, were widely used as medicines.
Diarrhodon is the name given to herbal treatments containing roses, and there are lots of them, said to treat everything from liver problems to heart problems to digestion issues. Traditional Chinese medicine made use of the China rose for regulating menstruation, pain relief, thyroid problems and diarrhea.
Did any of the rose-based traditional therapies work? Well, at least one could have. As rose-hips are quite high in vitamin C, they would likely have done wonders for sailors afflicted with scurvy.
Today we mostly keep our rose-based products for use in cosmetics, and a few specialty food products like rose hip jam, rose water or syrup that is common in many Indian desserts, or rose flavouring for ice cream, liquor or hipster lattes.
Even though the petals in these photos have been dried for more than 5 years, they still retain a fair amount of pollen, seen as yellow specs on their surface.

Under the Microscope: Pollen

Originally published here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/environment/under-microscope-pollen

Grains of pollen actually produce the male gametes (sperm cells) of flowering plants. They become dehydrated to better allow themselves to be carried on by wind, water and animals to other plants where they land in the gynoecium, the innermost part of a flower that contains the ovaries. After rehydrating itself, a pollen grain forms a pollen tube, through which it transfers sperm cells into the ovaries of the flower, completing the pollination process.

How much pollen plants produce is influenced by how well fed a flower is. Excess carbon dioxide in the air is causing plants to produce more pollen, and warmer, wetter winters are allowing plants to begin producing pollen earlier. This is especially bad news for those of us with pollen allergies.

Seasonal allergies were first reported around the time of the industrial revolution. Although we’re not certain why they sprang up then, one theory is that the rapid urbanization and increase in human greenhouse gas emissions triggered their appearance.

Even now, pollen allergies are on the rise in urban centres. As the temperature increases, due to our elevated emissions, allergenic species are able to migrate into areas they previously couldn’t thrive in. This results in new allergies as well as worsening of previously existing ones.

Pollen counts are raised by windy and dry conditions and lowered by wet and cooler ones, so staying indoors on the hottest of spring days is a good idea. You might also want to consider what you can do to mitigate climate change. After all, the climate is unequivocally, undeniably changing. And not for the better.