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Agent Orange is one of the herbicides that was used during the Vietnam war by the American forces to clear away the thick vegetation they encountered during operations. This was primarily done to prevent surprise attacks by guerrilla warriors as well as to ensure that there were no hidden traps, mines or IEDs waiting for them underneath.

This herbicide was used extensively during operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. One of the key things to remember here is that this was not a herbicide that was available commercially. It was developed specifically for war conditions and did not follow the same preventive measures or protocols as other herbicides.

In fact, the main active ingredient found in Agent Orange is "Dioxin", which is a known carcinogen. This chemical compound has been related to a number of diseases including COPD.

What Is The Relation Between COPD And Agent Orange?

This is exactly the question that the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, General Shinseki wanted answered and so he commissioned a study looking into the same. The study followed up 4000 veterans who had served in the war during the years Agent Orange was being used in large quantities. The results of the study have not yet been declared, however veterans are eligible for disability benefits if they are found suffering from COPD.

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a condition in which the lungs of a person suffer permanent damage due to the presence of inflammation. The cause for this inflammation to occur can be many and include long term exposure to cigarette smoke, noxious fumes, dangerous chemicals, small particle dust like that seen at construction sites and environmental pollution.

The presence of all these other factors (also called confounding factors) makes it difficult to pin down the blame of developing COPD on any one factor, however a significantly raised incidence of disease as compared to a similarly aged non-exposed population will definitely mean that exposure to Agent Orange played a role.

Signs And Symptoms of COPD

Most of these symptoms only appear after a significant amount of damage has been done to the lungs. They include:

  • Feeling short of breath constantly or after minor exertion
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Excessive mucus production
  • Constantly having to clear your throat
  • Weight loss
  • A chronic cough
  • Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the nailbeds)

A worsening of these symptoms can be seen during cold weather. Periodic exacerbations in the severity of the symptoms are also a common feature of the disease.

Complications After Developing COPD

People who are suffering from COPD are more prone to developing lung infections, flu, common cold and even pneumonia. There is also evidence linking the presence of COPD to an increased incidence of heart disease, lung cancer and the development of depression.


There are certain tests that will help the doctor diagnose COPD with a greater level of accuracy. These include a pulmonary function test. This is the most important diagnostic test and will determine how efficiently your lungs are functioning by measuring the amount of air they are able to hold. Pulse oximetry tests, lung volume and efficiency of diffusion may also be measured.

A chest X-ray, CT scan and blood gas levels may also be ordered to help reach the correct diagnosis.


The treatment involves the use of bronchodilators, systemic steroids, oxygen therapy and the cessation of deleterious habits. Surgical options including lung transplant are also available in cases that are extremely severe.

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