Military personnel exposed to smoke from burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan have more severe sinus and nasal disease, reports a study in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Among patients examined in the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) department of a military hospital, both subjective and objective assessments of sinonasal disease are increased for those who were exposed to open burn pits during deployment, according to the new research by Christopher J. Hill, MD, of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., and colleagues. They write, “Burn pits are a unique deployment-related airborne hazard that highlight the need for further research into the respiratory effects of environmental airborne toxins.”
Dr. Hill and colleagues analyzed the findings of exams at their rhinology clinic in 186 patients in 2019-20, mainly active-duty military personnel. Of these, 54 reported exposure to burn pits during deployment. The remaining patients were never deployed or deployed but not exposed to burn pits.
Rates of sinonasal disease were higher for patients with burn pit exposure. That included a 28% rate of chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps, compared to under 9% for nondeployed patients or deployed patients without burn pit exposure. Burn pit exposure was also linked to higher rates of allergic rhinitis and previous sinus surgery.
Patients exposed to burn pits during deployment also had more severe nasal and sinus symptoms, based on standard questionnaires. In addition, on endoscopic examination of the nose and sinuses, patients with burn pit exposure had greater severity based on a standard assessment.
“Our study provides clear evidence of an association between self-reported burn pit exposure and objective measures indicative of more severe sinus disease,” Dr. Miller and coauthors write. They note that hundreds of thousands of U.S. Service Members were exposed to burn pits during deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As the veterans of these Middle East conflicts age and enter the civilian healthcare system, this newly-discovered risk factor for chronic rhinosinusitis warrants further study and broader attention from military and civilian physicians alike,” the researchers conclude. They believe their findings will likely apply to members of the public exposed to other airborne hazards, such as industrial fumes, demolition-related particulate matter, and wildfires.
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