Soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have a high rate of breathing-related symptoms which entail lung function testing.

This was gathered from reports published in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Anthony M. Szema of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York and his colleagues analyzed health data of more than 7,000 active-duty soldiers in the area. About one-fourth of these veterans served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

14.5 percent were found out to have respiratory symptoms leading to spirometry, compared to 1.8 percent of those who served in other places.

Preventive Steps May Help Reduce Lung Injury

The researchers suggest a number of possible explanations for lung injury in soldiers such as inhaling sharp and coarse dust grains, toxins, and allergens in the in the harsh, polluted combat environment. Lung damage caused by blast pressure or shock waves from improvised explosive devices is another possible cause.

Another potential contributor is smoke from exposure to open burn pits, in which trash is ignited with jet fuel and burned.

The doctors identified some preventive steps that might help address these potential causes of lung injury using incinerators rather than trash pits, recycling rather than burning plastic water bottles, and increasing the use of respiratory protection devices.

Meanwhile, the group suggested that all soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan should undergo Spirometry to screen for reduced lung function.

They concluded that “the study has the potential to inform recommendations regarding force health protection guidance with respect to trash disposal, occupational health regulations, decisions regarding applications for disability due to lung disease, and medical follow-up and screening of veterans deployed to Iraq.”