Paresthesia is a burning or prickling sensation typically felt in the feet, legs, arms, or hands, and may be the result of exposure to neurotoxins.
In a recently published study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), data was analyzed from community members exposed to toxic materials in the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center (WTC) attacks to assess whether that exposure was linked to paresthesias.
The study researchers analyzed data from 3,141 patients of the WTC Environmental Health Center. Paresthesias was reported by 56 percent of patients when they enrolled 7 to 15 years following the WTC attacks. After seeking potential confounders, the researchers discovered that paresthesias was associated with the amount of exposure to the WTC dust cloud and doing a job requiring cleaning of WTC dust.
Parker Waichman national law firm notes that WTC exposures have been associated to a vast range of health problems, including prostate and other cancers, as well as gastrointestinal and lung diseases. Health officials reported in August 2016, that over 5,400 September 11 first responders and others who worked, lived or attended school near Ground Zero have developed 9/11-related cancers. The cancer numbers tripled in two and a half years, up from 1,822 cancer cases in January 2014.
These study results suggest that paresthesias was typically associated with WTC-related exposures, or post-WTC recovery and cleanup work. Further studies should objectively characterize these paresthesias and look to identify relevant neurotoxins or paresthesia-inducing activities.
What is Paresthesia?
Paresthesia can occur in many parts of the body but is usually felt in the hands, arms, legs, or feet. The sensation is usually painless and can happen without warning, and is described as tingling or numbness, skin crawling, or itching, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
Almost everyone has experienced paresthesia at some point. One of the most common times people get the feeling of pins and needles is when their arms or legs “fall asleep.” This feeling typically occurs when sustained pressure is put on a nerve inadvertently. For example, by falling asleep with an arm crooked under the head, or sitting with legs crossed for too long. It usually goes away quickly once the position is changed to remove pressure from the affected nerve. This kind of paresthesia is temporary and normally goes away without treatment. If the paresthesia persists, there may be an underlying medical disorder that requires treatment.
Chronic paresthesia is frequently a symptom of an underlying neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage. Paresthesia may be caused by disorders affecting the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, encephalitis, stroke, and transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes). A tumor pressed against the spinal cord or brain may also cause paresthesia. Nerve entrapment syndromes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can injure peripheral nerves and cause paresthesia accompanied by pain, NINDS reports. Diagnosis is based on identifying the underlying condition causing the paresthesia.
World Trade Center Toxic Exposure
After the collapse of the Twin Towers, the dust and debris over lower Manhattan was a mix of compounds, including asbestos; pulverized cement; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); benzene; dioxin; glass fibers; gypsum; jet fuel; heavy metals (including lead); irritants; toxins; and carcinogens. Countless first responders, rescue and recovery workers, local residents, and those who worked or attended school in the area, were exposed to these toxins. Thousands have been diagnosed with illnesses, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); and mental health issues including depression and anxiety disorder linked to the trauma of the attacks.
Although some people became ill shortly after the attacks, many health problems, cancers in particular, do not emerge until years after exposure. In certain cases, health issues that began on or shortly after 9/11 became worse over time. A person’s 9/11 health problems can have an effect on other conditions on a person’s overall health and well-being. The WTC health program set up under the federal James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act provides monitoring and testing that can help people catch problems as early as possible.