“I have been asthmatic all my life. When I was 4, my parents starting building a beach house. During the project we stayed in what my sister and I called the “Ratty Bach”, an old converted barn. Every time we stayed I got asthma.
Once the bach was finished we were there every school holidays, every long weekend and often weekends in between, and every time I got asthma, usually only on the first one or two nights. The attacks always happened at night. During the day I was fine and did all the things kids do at the beach.
As I grew older I participated in sport without any problems. However, I was unable to stay overnight with friends as every time I would suffer an asthma attack. It was very frustrating. In those days the only relief came from a bottle of disgusting liquid called simply “The Medicine”. It did relieve the symptoms a little, but it was awful stuff.
When I was 7, my doctor did skin tests. The results suggested I was allergic to the usual triggers of dust mites, cat and dog fur, feathers and cow’s milk. My parents were told to replace my kapok pillow with a rubber one and the mattress with an inner spring. I was taken off cow’s milk and ALL milk products. No more ice cream, cheese, butter, milk puddings or custard. I had to take a supplement of calcium powder. A good decision but revolting to eat.
I still suffered from asthma attacks, but they were less often and less severe. At 14 I was prescribed ephedrine. It was very effective but gave me severe palpitations so it was discontinued.
Medication improved over time, but the asthma stayed the same. When I was first married we lived in a very old house in Auckland. It had scrim and paper on the walls, which probably caused the first really serious prolonged unresponsive attack I had. At three in the morning my husband took me to the Emergency Department and I was given intravenous aminophylline. Instant result and such a relief.
A few months later we moved to Australia and I was asthma free for five years. We returned to New Zealand, and at Christmas went camping on the Coromandel Peninsula. While there I suffered another prolonged and unresponsive attack. My husband took me to Coromandel Hospital. I was given a subcutaneous bronchodilator, which gave relief but only for 4 hours. After three or four attempts, the staff put me in an ambulance and sent me to Thames Hospital. Once there, the symptoms finally subsided.
Over the next few decades medication improved and eventually I was using Serevent and Beclomethesone morning and night as preventers, and Ventolin as a reliever. Then I was prescribed Atrovent as a reliever, which worked very well.
In 2005 I moved with my second husband to Rotorua. My asthma improved, possibly due to the clean air, lower humidity, and maybe even the sulphur in the air. I suggested to my doctor that my medication could be revised and asked about Seretide. He agreed. Since then I stopped the Serevent and Beclomethasone. I didn’t use my reliever at all, and some days forgot to use the Seretide. After more than 60 years, my symptoms all but disappeared.
All my early life I was told my asthma could resolve itself by the time I was 7, or 14, perhaps by 21. By 35, I guessed it would never be resolved. I want to thank everyone involved in the research and development of the drugs that made my life so much easier.”
Thunderstorm asthma had previously been considered unlikely to occur in New Zealand due to our weather patterns not thought to pose a risk. However, recent climate changes have challenged this perception, with New Zealand experiencing its first thunderstorm asthma event in 2017.