Wagga asthmatics should brace themselves for one of the toughest spring seasons in years, according to doctors and researchers.
Charles Sturt University researcher Bruce Graham said Wagga's pollen count had risen to worrying levels, and that he expected it to remain that way for the remainder of the season.
Dr Graham said the high pollen count would be exacerbated by a forecast increase in thunderstorms, which split pollen particles into smaller fragments that can enter more deeply into people's lungs and cause breathing problems.
"Compared to the last couple of years we're much more likely to get [thunderstorm asthma] events," Dr Graham said.
"The biggest issue is rye grass that's grown as a fodder crop and also on the sides of roads where it grows wild, and I think this year we're going to have a lot more density of pollen granules."
Dr Graham said grass pollens from gardens and backyards were also a risk factor, as well as canola, wheat, and other crops that are entering their flowering stages across the Wagga countryside.
Respiratory physician Adriaan Venter said asthma cases could easily reach "epidemic" proportions if left unchecked, and that Wagga Base Hospital had been overwhelmed in the past by the sheer volume of asthma patients.
In order to prevent that from happening again, Dr Venter is urging asthmatics to use their preventative inhalers early and not to wait until they need to rely on relievers such as Ventolin to temporarily ease their symptoms.
"Wheezing and sneezing have been in abundance in recent months... we may be at risk of experiencing another epidemic of respiratory-related conditions such as asthma flare-ups," Dr Venter said.
"If someone does have these symptoms they need to be assessed for asthma and take preventative treatment."
Pharmacist Michael O'Reilly said it was a busy time of year for local pharmacies, with many visitors caught off-guard by just how pollen-dense Wagga could get.
"Because we have a visiting population here with the university and the military bases, we have people who haven't been to Wagga before and the symptoms catch them a little off-guard sometimes," Mr O'Reilly said.
"People that are visiting don't always know what's happening to them, so we certainly encourage them to have a chat with doctors."
Respiratory nurse Robyn Paton said allergy sufferers and asthmatics should remain vigilant and take preventative measures before their symptoms got out of control.
"The key message for people who wheeze and sneeze when preparing for spring is to visit their GP or respiratory specialist for an assessment of their lung health, obtain a current prescription for preventer as well as reliever medication and a written asthma action plan, and then use them," Ms Paton said.
Asthmatics can get alerts about high-risk times by registering online at www.science.csu.edu.au/asthma