Rescued miners likely to face mental issues

October 13, 2010 3:18:28 PM PDT
Even after the Chilean miners are freed, there continues to be concern about their well being.

Miners on any given day face danger and risk their health every time they go into a mine.

Dr. Robert Cohen is very familiar with medical conditions of miners and suspects the Chilean miners had intense exposure to harmful dust while they were trapped.

"They were also having some of the material that was being drilled for this rescue shaft, they were exposed to some of that, so 24 hours of the day in an atmosphere that does contain silica, so it adds on to their exposure that they've had their whole careers," said Dr. Cohen, a pulmonologist who works for Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Dr. Cohen is the medical director for 35 black lung clinics in the U.S. He explains the dangers for many American miners are the explosions -- like the fatal incident in West Virginia in April.

Dr. Cohen says the coal dust in American mines can be explosive and can cause black lung disease. He says the silver and copper miners in Chile would be exposed to silica dust and they may have silicosis depending on how long they have been exposed to the dust.

"Someone with silicosis has horrible symptoms of cough and coughing up phlegm, and shortness of breath, and many have heart disease because their hearts cannot push blood through their damaged lungs, and they end up on oxygen and have premature death," said Dr. Cohen.

In addition to the medical conditions, a local post-traumatic stress disorder specialist expects some of the rescued miners will have PTSD from the initial entrapment.

"The threat is still there, so you keep fearing the next collapse. Every shiver of the walls becomes the next sign of impending doom, and you create those shivers, even when they're not occurring in your nightmares," said Dr. Stevan Hobfoll.

Dr. Hobfoll is chairman of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center. He says, if not treated, PTSD can cause lifelong problems.

"there is some natural remission from PTSD, but probably those get that PTSD 30 percent are going to have it maybe forever, along with the nightmares and the lack of sleep," said Dr. Hobfoll.

Dr. Hobfoll says treatment of PTSD requires helping the patient tell his story and retell his story.

And there may be miners with fear of enclosed places.

Hobfoll says it is possible to recover from PTSD if there is no underlying psychological disorder, but he is concerned that there may not be PTSD specialists in Chile.


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