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Impact of poor air quality while deployed on respiratory health: a systematic review
  1. Lucy G Williams and
  2. D Ross
  1. AMS Support Unit, Army Medical Services, Camberley, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lucy G Williams, AMS Support Unit, Army Medical Service, Camberley, GU15 4NP, UK;{at}


Introduction British military personnel deploy internationally to areas with high levels of ambient air pollution. Air pollution can cause acute respiratory symptoms which lead to concern about potential long-lasting health effects. There is a requirement for evidence-based policy on chronic respiratory disease associated with military deployments to areas with poor air quality (AQ). This literature review examines the published evidence relating to the development of chronic respiratory disease in military personnel after exposure to poor AQ while deployed.

Methods A literature search was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines. Embase, MEDLINE and Global health databases were searched for English language studies published since 2014 examining the respiratory health of military personnel deployed to Southwest Asia since 2001. A quality appraisal of selected articles was conducted using the Critical Appraisals Skills Programme checklist and a descriptive review completed.

Results Eleven studies were found, eight of which had objective outcome measures. Two prospective cohort studies were included; the remainder of the data were retrospective.

Conclusion High rates of respiratory symptoms are reported by personnel who deploy to areas of poor AQ, giving rise to high levels of concern. Spirometry testing has found mild deficits, mostly of an obstructive nature, in a third of those with ongoing symptoms post deployment. These have not been consistently linked with deployment length. An increased risk of asthma appears to be multi-factorial in aetiology and there is no evidence for an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or histological pathology post deployment. At present, there is no definitive evidence of chronic respiratory disease due to exposure to poor AQ while deployed. Further objective longitudinal studies are required to continue to investigate the association, diagnosis and management of those with ongoing symptoms.

  • Respiratory physiology
  • Pathology
  • Risk management
  • Chronic airways disease

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Contributors LW planned and completed the systematic review. DR supervised the process, reviewed the content and is the guarantor of the study.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.