Military & Veterans Lung Disease

Reviewed by Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH

Since 2001, more than 3 million United States military men and women have deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In the past few years, evidence has emerged that U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense (DoD) contractors who have deployed to Southwest Asia may be at increased risk for developing lung symptoms and, in some cases, disabling chronic lung diseases including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis. The causes of their 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:

  • Open-air burn pits – chemicals, metals, combustion products

  • Desert dust and sandstorms

  • Industrial fires and emissions

  • Vehicular diesel exhaust

  • Improvised explosive device (IED) blasts

  • Combat dust debris

  • Temperature and humidity extremes in the desert climate

 

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

  • 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

  • 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 lung 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. This is a focus of our research program.

 

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