Trade Center cough is diagnosed

From Chicago, at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America

Obstructions that trap air deep within the lungs may explain certain breathing difficulties among some people who worked at the site of the World Trade Center following the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

Air gets similarly trapped in asthmatic lungs, where it causes shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Those are among the symptoms of what is called World Trade Center cough, a syndrome that covers respiratory problems that can’t be readily explained other than by the sufferer’s presence at the site.

David S. Mendelson of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and his colleagues used computed tomography to scan the lungs of 27 men and 2 women with the cough. The scans produced an image of each patient’s lungs after exhalation, when the airways should essentially be empty.

However, the researchers found substantial volumes of air trapped in 25 patients’ lungs, in effect reducing the patients’ air-intake volumes. Inhaled particles of pulverized cement and various toxic building materials released during the buildings’ collapses probably blocked small airways in the lungs, Mendelson says. Currently, there is no routine treatment for the condition.

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