Military & Veterans Lung Disease

Reviewed by Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH

In the past few years, evidence has emerged that U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense (DoD) contractors who have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other sites in Southwest Asia may be at increased risk for developing respiratory symptoms and, in some cases, disabling chronic respiratory diseases including asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis and constrictive bronchiolitis. The causes of these lung diseases remain unknown, but may be related to exposure to hazardous chemicals and inhalation of small particles in the Southwest Asia environment.
  

Exposure Concerns

Military personnel deployed in Southwest Asia often are exposed to:

  • Iraq veteran Dr. Richard Meehan testing air quality in a dust storm in the Middle East.Open-air burn pits – burning or smoldering chemicals, metals, plastics and human waste

  • Desert dust and sandstorms

  • Industrial fires and emissions

  • Vehicular diesel exhaust

  • Improvised explosive device (IED) blasts

  • Combat dust and debris

  • Temperature and humidity extremes in the desert climate

  • Workplace vapors, dusts, gases and fumes such as paints and solvents

 

Who is at Risk?

  • Current or former military personnel who deployed to Southwest Asia (e.g., Iraq, Kuwait), Afghanistan, or Djibouti since 2001

  • Government contractors who worked in these areas since 2001

 
Deployment-Related Respiratory Conditions

The full spectrum of deployment-related respiratory diseases is unknown. Lung conditions that have been linked to deployment include:

  • Bronchiolitis

  • Asthma

  • Eosinophilic syndromes

  • Upper airway disorders such as rhinitis, sinusitis, tracheobronchomalacia/expiratory central airway collapse

  • Unexplained shortness of breath

 
How are these conditions diagnosed?

Medical evaluation is individualized. Testing may include:

  • Detailed occupational and medical history

  • Comprehensive physical exam

  • Lung function testing

  • Methacholine challenge

  • Exercise testing

  • Laryngoscopy

  • Bronchoscopy

  • Chest computed tomography (CT) scan

  • Lung biopsy

  
Is there treatment?

Our team of medical providers and caregivers develop a personalized treatment approach for each patient seen in our Deployment-Related Lung Disease Center, based on their respiratory disease diagnosis and severity. We use the latest evidence-based information to establish a program of treatment and medical follow-up.  For some lung conditions like bronchiolitis, there are few available treatments that have been shown to work. Treatment for deployment-related lung disease is a major focus of our research program.

 

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