‘Tornado cough’ threatening families in devastated areas
MOORE — Lisa and Anthony Macias are cleaning up their lives one shovel full at a time. Their home near Plaza Towers Elementary School was completely destroyed in the May 20th tornado. Thankfully, their two children, Neko and Kyler, and faithful Sherman Shepherd, Liam, survived without a scratch.
Just when Lisa thought they were safe, something else started threatening her family.
“The very first night, right after it happened, we came over to see if there was anything we could get, medicine-wise, for my son and stuff out of the house.” She said. “And we didn’t wear a mask. That was the night I really noticed when we got back that they were coughing a little bit and my youngest one was really scared.”
It’s called “tornado cough,” allergic reactions to debris in the air. It can strike even the healthiest people.
“You don’t have to have asthma to overwhelm your respiratory system.” Dr. Jason Sigmon said. “We saw that in 9/11 in the world trade center bombings and all the debris that was in the air.”
Drywall, fiberglass, and mold are some of the things that don’t normally affect us until they’re thrown into our air all at once.
“After we would leave and get some fresh air, for a few days after that we would be coughing a little bit.” Lisa said. “You feel like your chest is just a little bit heavier and then after a few days you feel fine.”
“That filtering mechanism, just like the filters in your house, can be overwhelmed to where they don’t work anymore.” Sigmon said. “And then you’re going to be directly challenged by those things in the environment. Those are the things that we see with patients who typically don’t have lung problems.”
Tornado cough can be deadly if you breathe in particulates over a long period of time. The best defense is to wear a mask when you’re around the debris.
“I have pictures of them in front of the school with masks on a few days afterwards because you don’t know what’s in the air right now and you hear so much.” Lisa said. “Mold, insulation…it’s just the ‘not knowing’ of what you’re breathing in and what could happen later and so we just tried to eliminate it as much as possible.”
You could have tornado cough if you feel increased coughing and congestion or feel like you have asthma.