Chile Miners: After Rescue, What Medical Dangers Lie Ahead?

chilean miner
Alfonso Avalos, father of Chilean miner Florencio Avalos, celebrates after Florencio was brought to the surface on October 13, 2010. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

(CBS) Getting back to the surface may be just the first challenge for the 33 Chilean miners now being freed after spending more than two months underground.

Medical experts say the men, ranging in age from 19 to 63, may be facing a number of health problems.

"The work is just beginning when the miners get out of the mine, Dr. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer at Johnson Space Center, told CNN.

Respiratory conditions are at the top of the list of problems the miners are likely to face. Chalk this up to the poor air quality said to exist in the mine.

"I would expect respiratory infections," Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, told ABC News.

And that's not all. Fungal infections including athlete's foot and jock itch are other potential risks, according to ABC News. While not life-threatening, these conditions can be uncomfortable - and it can take months to get rid of the offending fungi.

Dental problems are another threat. Some of the men are believed to have developed gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, according to ABC News.

What about the miners' eyes? There had been some concern that long exposure to darkness could result in eye damage - or that exposure to sunlight again after months in darkness could result in retinal damage. The men were given sunglasses to wear upon returning to the surface, and, in any case, it should not take them long to adjust, Dr. Ivan Schwab, professor of ophthalmology at University of California Davis School of Medicine, told ABC News.

So far, the rescued miners seem to be doing well. But no one knows exactly what to expect because this is believed to be the first time miners have been rescued after spending so much time underground, Dr. Jean Romagnoli, chief medical officer of the team that is leading the rescue, told the Los Angeles Times.

Said Dr. Romagnoli, "We're looking at some unknowns."


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