Breathing Problems Strike Soldiers Returning From Iraq

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US NEWS– Some U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering unexplained breathing problems that may be related to exposure to unknown toxins, a new study indicates.

“Respiratory disorders are emerging as a major consequence of service in southwest Asia,” said study author Dr. Matthew S. King, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.

“In addition to our study, there have been studies showing increases in asthma, obstructive lung disease, allergic rhinitis and a general increase in reports of respiratory symptoms,” he added.

The report was published in the July 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, King and colleagues had 80 soldiers with difficulty breathing from Fort Campbell, Ky., undergo physical exams that included tests to determine how well they were breathing and CT scans.

In addition, 49 soldiers had lung biopsies when the exam couldn’t find a reason for their breathing problems. Some of these soldiers had been exposed to a sulfur-mine fire in Iraq in 2003, the researchers noted.

All the biopsies were abnormal, and the researchers diagnosed 38 soldiers with constrictive bronchiolitis. Constrictive bronchiolitis is a rare non-reversible lung disease in which the small airways in the lungs are compressed and narrowed by scar tissue or inflammation.

“This a very rare condition in otherwise healthy individuals and is generally untreatable,” King said. “We believe that it is caused by an inhalational exposure with which they have contact while in southwest Asia.”

The other soldiers were diagnosed with other conditions that explained their breathing problems.

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© 2011 US News

Photo by Flickr user Walter Reed Army Medical Center

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