Combat Cough Revisited

Constrictive bronchiaolitis is being diagnosed in Afghanistan and Iraq veterans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) American veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with more than honor and dignity. Our soldiers are coming home with a respiratory disease the government is calling Iraq-Afghanistan War Lung Injury (IAW-LI).

One of these cases, as reported by The New York Times, is Gary Dunham, an athletic young man who in basic training was able to run two miles in under 13 minutes. After his 2003 year long tour of duty in Iraq, he returned home gasping for breath.

In Durham’s case, the lung problems have proven to be long-term. His return to Fort Campbell, KY, in 2004 found him coughing up phlegm on a daily basis. After being screened by army physicians who used an arsenal of lung tests, the physicians could find nothing.

One Army physician noted on Dunham's chart that it could be psychological. By 2005, running was simply impossible. Dunham was medically discharged as a sergeant in 2005.

"Some Iraq-Afghanistan War Lung Injury cases are proving to be long-term health issues."

In 2010, Durham read about Dr. Robert Miller at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who was seeing many Iraq veterans for breathing problems. Dr. Miller biopsied Dunham's lung and diagnosed an untreatable disease called constrictive bronchiolitis, which is very rare in the general population.

Dr. Robert F. Miller explains that patients with constrictive bronchiolitis, a rare disease usually only found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lung transplants or those working in chemical plants, experience breathing during only moderate exercise feels like sucking air through a straw.

Dr. Miller has also conducted lung biopsies on 56 other Iraq or Afghanistan veterans, many of whom were referred to Dr. Miller from Fort Campbell. He found over 70 percent of these veterans had constrictive bronchiolitis.

Dr. Miller reports that now, Fort Campbell no longer refers soldier patients to him.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 20, 2011
Last Updated:
June 24, 2011