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Iraq War Veterans Face Allergy Risks

U.S. soldiers who serve in Iraq may be at
increased risk of developing allergies , a new study
suggests.

A review of the medical records of more than 6,000 soldiers shows that
those who were deployed to the Persian Gulf were about twice as likely to have
newly diagnosed allergic rhinitis (nasal
allergies) after discharge, compared with those who were stationed
stateside.

"All of them say they didn't have allergies before [they served],"
says researcher Anthony Szema, MD, chief of allergy at Northport Veterans
Affairs Medical Center in Northport, N.Y.

The findings, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy
of Allergy, Asthma and Immunotherapy (AAAAI),
held true for both men and women.

About Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis affects about 40 million people in the U.S. Seasonal
allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever, most commonly hits people in the
spring, when trees, grasses, weeds, and ragweed release their pollen. Perennial
allergic rhinitis, which hits year-round, is triggered by common indoor
allergens, such as animal dander, mold, droppings from dust mites, and
cockroach particles.

If you're sensitive, your immune system views the pollen or other allergen
as a foreign invader and sends an out an army of histamines. Histamines are
chemicals that trigger inflammation in the sinuses, nose, and eyes. From there,
it's a downward spiral into fits of sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, runny
nose, and itchy eyes.

Veterans Suffering Asthma, Allergies

Szema says that the idea for the study came from Department of Defense
correspondence that stated that 13% of U.S. Army medic visits in Iraq are for
new allergies, asthma, and other respiratory ills.

Additionally, after discharge, "soldiers were showing up at VA hospitals
complaining of cough, stuffy nose, and wheezing," he says.

To determine if allergic rhinitis could account for the symptoms experienced
by the soldiers, the researchers analyzed 6,233 computer records from veterans
who served from 2004 to 2007.

Results showed 9.9% of soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf for a year or
more had allergic rhinitis vs. 5.1% of homeland-stationed personnel.

Pollution, Dust Mites, Could Contribute

The study was not designed to show how serving in Iraq might increase
susceptibility to allergies. But Szema tells WebMD that he suspects dust mites,
air pollution, or both, may be to blame.

The tents and trailers where many soldiers sleep are often full of dust, he
says. "And if they're air- conditioned, the humidity promotes the growth of
dust mites."

"Or, maybe it is lung injury due to inhaling a lot of pollution,"
Szema says, pointing to the massive dust storms that plague the country. Other
sources of pollution that are present in Iraq but not the U.S. include exhaust
from rocket-propelled grenades and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), he
says.

Szema says a lot more study, preferably following soldiers from enlistment
through deployment to discharge, is needed.

In the meantime, a protective mask may help guard against new allergies or
worse symptoms, Szema says.

He also recommends soldiers invest in a high-efficiency pollution air (HEPA)
filter, which forces air through a special screen, trapping particles such as
dust mites.

Clifford Bassett, MD, vice chair of AAAAI's public education committee and
an allergist at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., notes that
allergic rhinitis is on the rise throughout the world.

If you're suffering from a stuffed-up or runny nose or persistent sneezing
that lasts more than a few days, see your doctor, he advises.

"Too often people trivialize allergies. Early and prompt treatment can
reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life," Bassett tells WebMD.

By Charlene Laino
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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