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Is Katrina Cough Real?

Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States, some residents say they have developed ongoing lung and respiratory problems that have collectively become known as "Katrina Cough." But is "Katrina Cough" real?

"Katrina cough" is believed to be a collection of respiratory illnesses that may be due to exposure to mold, dust, and related allergens resulting from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Doctors in the New Orleans area began seeing an increase in respiratory complaints by patients in the months following the storm.  These patients described a cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat and headaches. Most patients were treated with antihistamines, nasal sprays, or antibiotics.

Doctors still aren't sure whether Katrina cough and its symptoms are actually related to the hurricane, and no one knows exactly how many patients have experienced symptoms. The American Lung Association of Louisiana did a study of approximately 1,600 people in the twelve months following Katrina, and about 25% of those screened had reduced lung function in the mild to moderate range.

But the Louisiana Office of Public Health conducted a study of emergency room visits in New Orleans following the hurricane and the study showed no increase in the rate of New Orleans-area respiratory illnesses.

Other health experts say patients' problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux, could have many different causes which can be made worse by stress. Symptoms of such afflictions can't be definitively connected to the storm.

In addition, patients with normal seasonal allergies or winter colds may mistakenly blame their symptoms on the hurricane instead of ordinary pollen or common viruses.

Despite the disclaimers, many people claim "Katrina cough" is real.

Anyone coping with what they believe to be Katrina cough can use cough suppressants to stop coughing.  However, there can be some dangers in using such cough suppressants, because you want to get irritating particles out of your lungs. A cough suppressant keeps you from coughing, but doesn't help clear your respiratory system of the particles that are causing the cough in the first place.

A better recommendation might be a two-step approach

1) use an N95 filter mask to reduce the number of particles inhaled, and

2) wash out the particles from the nose and sinuses with nasal irrigation, which is a process of clearing out your nasal passages with a fluid (usually a saline solution).

For persistent cough, you can try inhaling steam with your tongue out.  This process gets warm moist air into your lungs and may help relieve your symptoms.  There can be a downside however, because using a steamer in your home can add moisture and encourage the growth of mold.  Mold may be the very cause of your cough, so the less mold you have in your environment, the fewer symptoms of Katrina cough you're likely to experience. 

And finallyArticle Submission, remember what your grandmother told you: that warm liquids such as hot tea and chicken soup are always good for easing the discomfort of coughs and colds. "Katrina cough" is no different.

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George McKenzie is a retired TV anchor, medical reporter and radio talk show host.

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