A descriptive analysis of asthma in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force

John R. Sims, Patrick M. Tibbles, Robert P. Jackman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The U.S. Navy Submarine Force offers a unique opportunity to study asthma because of the relative socioeconomic and physical homogeneity of the population and the closed environment occupational exposure. Currently, asthma is disqualifying from submarine service, which results in a significant loss of experienced personnel. Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of 119 U.S. Navy submariner disqualification packages for asthma between 1989-1993. Results: We found a 0.16% annual period prevalence of asthma in the active duty enlisted Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force. Two groups of asthma disqualifications were identified with a significant increase above their proportional representation in the fleet: enlisted personnel (p < 0.01) and submarine recruits (p < 0.0001). The proportion of African-American personnel also had a tendency toward increased asthma disqualification (p < 0.08). There were no differences in prevalence of asthma between crews of ballistic missile submarines or fast attack submarines. Asthma risk factors reported in the civilian literature (childhood history of asthma, family history of asthma and non-drug allergies) were highly represented in our study (41%, 46% and 68% of submariners, respectively). Most disqualified submariners had 'mild' asthma based on the diagnostic work-up. The methacholine challenge test appeared to carry a disproportionate diagnostic weight despite its low specificity. Conclusion: Although the period prevalence of asthma is low in the U.S. Navy Submarine Force, submariners disqualified for asthma have similar historical and ethnic risk factors as the civilian population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1214-1218
Number of pages5
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma
  • Closed-environment
  • Occupational exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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