Exercise-associated Excessive Dynamic Airway Collapse in Military Personnel

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Abstract

Rationale:

Evaluation of military personnel for exertional dyspnea can present a diagnostic challenge, given multiple unique factors that include wide variation in military deployment. Initial consideration is given to common disorders such as asthma, exercise-induced bronchospasm, and inducible laryngeal obstruction. Excessive dynamic airway collapse has not been reported previously as a cause of dyspnea in these individuals.

Objectives:

To describe the clinical and imaging characteristics of military personnel with exertional dyspnea who were found to have excessive dynamic collapse of large airways during exercise.

Methods:

After deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq, 240 active U.S. military personnel underwent a standardized evaluation to determine the etiology of persistent dyspnea on exertion. Study procedures included full pulmonary function testing, impulse oscillometry, exhaled nitric oxide measurement, methacholine challenge testing, exercise laryngoscopy, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, and fiberoptic bronchoscopy. Imaging included high-resolution computed tomography with inspiratory and expiratory views. Selected individuals underwent further imaging with dynamic computed tomography.

Measurements and Main Results:

A total of five men and one woman were identified as having exercise-associated excessive dynamic airway collapse on the basis of the following criteria: (1) exertional dyspnea without resting symptoms, (2) focal expiratory wheezing during exercise, (3) functional collapse of the large airways during bronchoscopy, (4) expiratory computed tomographic imaging showing narrowing of a large airway, and (5) absence of underlying apparent pathology in small airways or pulmonary parenchyma. Identification of focal expiratory wheezing correlated with bronchoscopic and imaging findings.

Conclusions:

Among 240 military personnel evaluated after presenting with postdeployment exertional dyspnea, a combination of symptoms, auscultatory findings, imaging, and visualization of the airways by bronchoscopy identified six individuals with excessive dynamic central airway collapse as the sole apparent cause of dyspnea. Exercise-associated excessive dynamic airway collapse should be considered in the differential diagnosis of exertional dyspnea.

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