SAN ANTONIO—The respiratory health of military personnel deployed to Southwest Asia continues to be an issue of great concern in light of their exposures to a variety of environmental hazards.

A recent study asks a question critical to determining cause and effect: What was the predeployment respiratory health of recruits? In the article published in the journal Respiratory Care, the study team led by researchers from the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, TX, points out that, generally, the deployed military force is assumed to be fit, but pre-existing respiratory issues could be a factor in future complaints.1

To determine that, the researchers looked at responses to a general and respiratory health questionnaire administered at the pre-deployment processing center at Fort Hood, TX, as well as results from baseline spirometry for soldiers deploying to Southwest Asia.  Overall, 1,693 predeployment evaluations were completed for the mostly, 83.1%, male soldiers averaging 32.2 years old.

Results indicated that more than one-third of surveyed solders had a smoking history, 73% were overweight or obese, and 6.2% reported a history of asthma.

In addition, abnormal spirometry was found in 22.3% of participants. Study authors pointed out that soldiers with abnormal spirometry reported more asthma (10.1% vs 5.1%, P < .001), failed physical fitness tests (9.0% vs 4.6%, P = .02), and respiratory symptoms (32.8% vs 24.3%, P = .001).

“This is the first prospective pre-deployment evaluation of military personnel that delineates factors potentially associated with the development of pulmonary symptoms and/or disease,” study authors wrote. “This study suggests that deploying soldiers are older, heavier, frequently smoke, and may have undiagnosed pre-deployment lung disease. Abnormal spirometry is common but may not represent underlying disease. Self-reported asthma, wheezing, and slower 2-mile run times were predictive of abnormal spirometry.”

The researchers concluded that “pre-deployment evaluation of military personnel identified numerous soldiers with active pulmonary symptoms and abnormal spirometry. When combined with questions regarding asthma history, wheezing and exercise intolerance, spirometry may identify individuals at risk for deployment-related respiratory complaints.”

  1. Skabelund AJ, Rawlins FA 3rd, McCann ET, Lospinoso JA, Burroughs L, Gallup RA, Morris MJ. Pulmonary Function and Respiratory Health of Military Personnel Before Southwest Asia Deployment. Respir Care. 2017 Sep;62(9):1148-1155. doi: 10.4187/respcare.05438. Epub 2017 May 2. PubMed PMID: 28465382.