The perfect storm: climate change and asthma

Impact: Environment impacts, Health impacts, Policy impacts, Organisation impacts, Technology impacts

Description of impact

How do airborne allergens affect people's health?

This project explores impacts of climate change on human health in Australia and internationally, with a focus on the impacts on airborne allergens such as pollen and the phenomenon known as thunderstorm asthma.

In collaboration with an inter-disciplinary research team of experts from universities and government, Associate Professor Paul Beggs has taken a leading role in research at the frontier of this dynamic field.

It encompasses the MJA-Lancet Countdown, tracking progress on health and climate change, and investigation of the world’s most severe and deadly epidemic thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne in November 2016.

Through these, it is improving the health and preventing the death of people living with allergic respiratory diseases both now and into the future

Our people

Associate Professor Paul Beggs
Macquarie University

Professor Janet Davies
Queensland University of Technology

Distinguished Professor Alfredo Huete
University of Technology Sydney

Professor Simon Haberle
The Australian National University

Associate Professor Edward Newbigin
The University of Melbourne

Professor Frank Thien
Monash University

Professor Tony Capon
The University of Sydney

Dr Elizabeth Ebert
Bureau of Meteorology

Associate Professor Lewis Ziska
Columbia Unviversity

Dr Jeroen Buters
Professor, Technical University Munich

Australian GovernmentBureau of MeteorologyCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)other national governments (eg the US)NSW Office of Environment and HeritageNSW HealthVictorian Inspector-General for Emergency ManagementVictorian Department of Health and Human Servicesother state governmentsthe community (eg people with asthma and allergic rhinitis)policy makersAsthma Australia.

Research associated with impact

The project is founded on inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary research involving Australian and international experts ranging from the environmental sciences, biological sciences, and mathematical sciences, to the health and medical sciences.

Recent high profile examples, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, include the investigation of environmental triggers, effect on health services, and patient risk factors of the 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma event; and the international inter-comparison of temperature-related changes in airborne allergenic pollen abundance and seasonality across the northern hemisphere.

Impacts of this research have included input to the world’s first thunderstorm asthma warning service by VicEmergency, and being cited in evidence in the Coronial inquiry of the 10 thunderstorm asthma deaths.

The inaugural MJA-Lancet Countdown assessment was published on 29 November 2018. Media coverage of this work has been extensive, as has engagement with it amongst the wider community, reflected in the article’s Altmetric being in the top 1% compared to outputs of the same age. The publication of the assessment was accompanied by launches in Sydney and Canberra and a Briefing for Australian Policymakers.

In 2018, A/Prof Beggs’ book Impacts of Climate Change on Allergens and Allergic Diseases was awarded Choice Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association. This prestigious award recognises excellence in presentation and scholarship, importance relative to other literature in the field, distinction as a first treatment of a given subject, and originality or uniqueness of treatment.

More information
The Conversation
Beggs P, Berry HL, Linnenluecke M, Zhang Y. Heatwaves threaten Australians’ health, and our politicians aren’t doing enough about it. The Conversation 29 November 2018.
Davies J, Beggs P. Future hay fever seasons will be worse thanks to climate change. The Conversation 20 November 2014.
Newbigin E, Huete A, Ebert B, Davies J, Silver J, Beggs P. Keeping one step ahead of pollen triggers for thunderstorm asthma. The Conversation 7 December 2016.
News articles
Australian inaction on climate change threatens citizen health. Open Forum, 1 December 2018.
Peter Hannam. Mental health added to impact of climate change as global damage grows. The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November 2018.
Felicity Nelson. We are unprepared for climate change impact on allergies. The Medical Republic, 7 December 2018.
Belinda Tasker. Australian lives at risk from lack of climate policy: expert report. In Daily, 29 November 2018.
Heatwaves threaten our health, and politicians aren't doing enough about it. AusDoc.PLUS, 30 November 2018.
Lancet Countdown
VicEmergency Thunderstorm Asthma Forecast

MJA-Lancet Countdown

References and further reading

Beggs PJ (Editor). Impacts of Climate Change on Allergens and Allergic Diseases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016.
Journal articles
Beggs PJ. Allergen aerosol from pollen-nucleated precipitation: a novel thunderstorm asthma trigger. Atmospheric Environment 2017;152:455-457. DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.12.045
Beggs PJ. Climate change and allergy in Australia: an innovative, high-income country, at potential risk. Public Health Research & Practice 2018;28(4):e2841828. DOI: 10.17061/phrp2841828
Beggs PJ, Davies JM, Milic A, Haberle SG, Johnston FH, Jones PJ, Katelaris CH, Newbigin E. Australian Airborne Pollen and Spore Monitoring Network Interim Standard and Protocols. Version 2, 14 September 2018. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.
Beggs PJ, Katelaris CH, Medek D, Johnston FH, Burton PK, Campbell B, Jaggard AK, Vicendese D, Bowman DMJS, Godwin I, Huete AR, Erbas B, Green BJ, Newnham RM, Newbigin E, Haberle SG, Davies JM. Differences in grass pollen allergen exposure across Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2015;39(1):51-55. DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12325
Beggs PJ, Zhang Y. The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;209(11):474-475. DOI: 10.5694/mja18.00789ps
Behrens G, Zhang Y, Beggs P. Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Australian Policymakers. Lancet Countdown, 2018.
Davies JM, Beggs PJ, Medek DE, Newnham RM, Erbas B, Thibaudon M, Katelaris CH, Haberle SG, Newbigin EJ, Huete AR. Trans-disciplinary research in synthesis of grass pollen aerobiology and its importance for respiratory health in Australasia. Science of the Total Environment 2015;534:85-96. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.001
Devadas R, Huete AR, Vicendese D, Erbas B, Beggs PJ, Medek D, Haberle SG, Newnham RM, Johnston FH, Jaggard A, Campbell B, Burton PK, Katelaris CH, Newbigin E, Thibaudon M, Davies JM. Dynamic ecological observations from satellites inform aerobiology of allergenic grass pollen. Science of the Total Environment 2018;633:441–451. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.191
Haberle SG, Bowman DMJS, Newnham RM, Johnston FH, Beggs PJ, Buters J, Campbell B, Erbas B, Godwin I, Green BJ, Huete A, Jaggard AK, Medek D, Murray F, Newbigin E, Thibaudon M, Vicendese D, Williamson GJ, Davies JM. The macroecology of airborne pollen in Australian and New Zealand urban areas. PLoS ONE 2014;9(5):e97925. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097925
Inspector-General for Emergency Management. Review of Response to the Thunderstorm Asthma Event of 21–22 November 2016: Final Report. Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Department of Justice and Regulation, Victoria State Government, 2017.
Lynch AJJ, Thackway R, Specht A, Beggs PJ, Brisbane S, Burns EL, Byrne M, Capon SJ, Casanova MT, Clarke PA, Davies JM, Dovers S, Dwyer RG, Ens E, Fisher DO, Flanigan M, Garnier E, Guru SM, Kilminster K, Locke J, Mac Nally R, McMahon KM, Mitchell PJ, Pierson JC, Rodgers EM, Russell-Smith J, Udy J, Waycott M. Transdisciplinary synthesis for ecosystem science, policy and management: the Australian experience. Science of the Total Environment 2015;534:173–184. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.100
Milic A, Addison-Smith B, Jones PJ, Beggs PJ, Erbas B, Davies JM. Quality control of pollen identification and quantification exercise for the AusPollen Aerobiology Collaboration Network: a pilot study. Aerobiologia 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s10453-019-09580-4
Thien F, Beggs PJ, Csutoros D, Darvall J, Hew M, Davies JM, Bardin PG, Bannister T, Barnes S, Bellomo R, Byrne T, Casamento A, Conron M, Cross A, Crosswell A, Douglass JA, Durie M, Dyett J, Ebert E, Erbas B, French C, Gelbart B, Gillman A, Harun N-S, Huete A, Irving L, Karalapillai D, Ku D, Lachapelle P, Langton D, Lee J, Looker C, MacIsaac C, McCaffrey J, McDonald CF, McGain F, Newbigin E, O’Hehir R, Pilcher D, Prasad S, Rangamuwa K, Ruane L, Sarode V, Silver JD, Southcott AM, Subramaniam A, Suphioglu C, Susanto NH, Sutherland MF, Taori G, Taylor P, Torre P, Vetro J, Wigmore G, Young AC, Guest C. The Melbourne epidemic thunderstorm asthma event 2016: an investigation of environmental triggers, effect on health services, and patient risk factors. The Lancet Planetary Health 2018;2(6):e255–e263. DOI.
Zhang Y, Beggs PJ. The Lancet Countdown down-under: tracking progress on health and climate change in Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;208(7):285-286. DOI: 10.5694/mja17.01245
Zhang Y, Beggs PJ, Bambrick H, Berry HL, Linnenluecke MK, Trueck S, Alders R, Bi P, Boylan SM, Green D, Guo Y, Hanigan IC, Hanna EG, Malik A, Morgan GG, Stevenson M, Tong S, Watts N, Capon AG. The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives. The Medical Journal of Australia 2018;209(11):1.e1- 1.e21. DOI: 10.5694/mja18.00789
Ziska LH, Makra L, Harry SK, Bruffaerts N, Hendrickx M, Coates F, Saarto A, Thibaudon M, Oliver G, Damialis A, Charalampopoulos A, Vokou D, Heiđmarsson S, Guđjohnsen E, Bonini M, Oh J-W, Sullivan K, Ford L, Brooks GD, Myszkowska D, Severova E, Gehrig R, Ramón GD, Beggs PJ, Knowlton K, Crimmins AR. Temperature-related changes in airborne allergenic pollen abundance and seasonality across the northern hemisphere: a retrospective data analysis. The Lancet Planetary Health 2019;3(3):e124–e131. DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30015-4
Impact date20132020
Category of impactEnvironment impacts, Health impacts, Policy impacts, Organisation impacts, Technology impacts
Impact levelBenefit