A systematic review of the role of grass pollen and fungi in thunderstorm asthma

Environ Res. 2020 Feb:181:108911. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108911. Epub 2019 Nov 16.


Background: Thunderstorm asthma is defined as epidemics of asthma occurring shortly after a thunderstorm. While grass pollen has been implicated in thunderstorm asthma events, little is known about the role of fungi and studies have not been synthesised.

Objective: This systematic review aims to evaluate whether grass pollen is necessary in thunderstorm asthma events and whether fungi also play a part in these associations.

Methods: We conducted a systematic search using six electronic databases (i.e. CINAHL, Medline (Ovid), Web of Science, ProQuest Central, EMBASE and Google Scholar) and checked reference lists. The search terms used were pollen AND thunderstorm* AND asthma. The inclusion criteria were studies published in English with original human data relating to outdoor pollen and thunderstorm asthma.

Results: Twenty of 2198 studies were eligible. Reported findings differed due to variation in methodological approaches and a meta-analysis was not possible. Nonetheless, of the 20 studies included, 15 demonstrated some relationship with nine demonstrating lagged effects up to four days for increasing grass pollen counts associated with increased risk of thunderstorm asthma. Of the 10 studies that examined fungi, nine demonstrated a positive relationship with thunderstorm asthma. The fungal taxa involved varied, depending on whether measurements were recorded before, during or after the thunderstorm. Nevertheless, none of the studies considered fungi as a potential effect modifier for the pollen-thunderstorm asthma association.

Conclusion: We found evidence to suggest that grass pollen was a necessary factor for thunderstorm asthma but there are other as yet unrecognised environmental factors that may also be important. Further research is required to examine the role of fungi and other environmental factors such as air quality as potential effect modifiers of the association.

Keywords: Asthma; Fungi; Grass; Pollen; Thunderstorm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens*
  • Asthma*
  • Fungi*
  • Humans
  • Poaceae
  • Pollen*


  • Allergens