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Otolaryngologic symptoms in persons exposed to World Trade Center dust and particle pollutants: A case for caution in declaring a diagnosis of WTC syndrome

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August 1, 2009
by Swapna K. Chandran, MD, Mary J. Hawkshaw, RN, BSN, CORLN, and Robert T. Sataloff, MD, DMA, FACS


Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center (WTC), the health status of survivors, rescue and cleanup workers, and residents of Lower Manhattan has been monitored. Exposure to dust and particulate matter resulted in numerous complaints of both upper and lower aerodigestive tract irritation. The symptoms, diagnoses, and management of affected persons have previously been described in the literature. However, evidence establishing causation is scarce, especially with regard to the purported long-term effects of such exposure. Many persons who were exposed to the Ground Zero site have otolaryngologic conditions that are common in persons who were not so exposed. Therefore, otolaryngologists involved in the care of such patients should be cautious about assigning a diagnosis of “WTC syndrome” without a comprehensive examination to look for other possible etiologies. A diagnosis of a treatable, potentially serious health problem should not be missed simply because a patient who was exposed to WTC irritants was presumed to have WTC syndrome. In this review, we discuss the reported otolaryngologic manifestations of exposure to the WTC site, and we describe the specific cases of 2 workers there who continue to have otolaryngologic complaints. Considerable research is needed to establish the existence and nature of any long-term sequelae of exposure to WTC fallout.

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