Deployment-Related Lung Disease

Reviewed by Cecile S. Rose,


Since 2001, over 2 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 who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 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 dangerous chemicals and inhalation of small fragments of substances in the Southwest Asia environment.


Exposure Concerns

Military personnel deployed in Southwest Asia are exposed to emissions from:

  • open-air burn pits – chemicals, metals, combustion products
  • desert dust and sand storms
  • industrial fires and emissions
  • vehicular exhaust
  • IED blasts
  • temperature and humidity extremes in the desert climate.


Related Conditions

Individual factors (such as smoking status) may also contribute to lung disease risk.


Types of Possible Deployment-Related Lung Diseases

The post-deployment lung diseases that have been reported include:



Returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan may report lung symptoms including:

  • exertional dyspnea (shortness of breath with exercise)
  • decreased exercise capacity
  • cough
  • mucus membrane and eye irritation. 

Further examination by a doctor is often needed to properly diagnose post-deployment lung diseases.


Screening and Diagnosis

Diagnostic testing of those with post-deployment lung symptoms may include:



Those who have asthma, rhinitis, or bronchitis should be treated based on standard guidelines.

To date, there are no studies offering specific recommendations for medical management of those affected by post-deployment lung diseases. As a result, the Center of Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease at National Jewish Health has been established to help identify causes, treatment and prevention.


Clinical Trials

Normal Controls Needed for Study of Deployment Lung Disease Breathing Test

The purpose of this study is to learn more about new noninvasive ways of detecting lung disease in US military personnel who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. We will be conducting a simple breathing test call a lung clearance index (LCI) test.  We hope this LCI testing may be useful in detecting early lung abnormalities that may be seen in deployers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We are recruiting adults with no history of pre-existing lung disease (for example, asthma, COPD, etc.) and no history of previous deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan to be the normal group that will be compared to participants with known deployment-related lung disease.

Participation involves one 45-60 minute testing session in which you will complete the lung clearance index (LCI) test at National Jewish Health.

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