Self-reported chemical sensitivity and wartime chemical exposures in Gulf War veterans with and without decreased global health ratings

Iris R. Bell, Lydia Warg-Damiani, Carol M. Baldwin, Michele E. Walsh, Gary E.R. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This cross-sectional telephone survey study assessed prevalence rates of current chemical sensitivity, frequency of chemical odor intolerance, and self-reported Persian Gulf chemical exposures among 41 randomly sampled Department of Veterans Affairs outpatients who were Persian Gulf War (PGW) and PGW-era veterans. The participants were drawn from an initial random list of 100 veterans, of whom 28 PGW and 20 era veterans had correct telephone data on file. Of those contacted, 86% of PGW veterans (24/28) and 85% of era veterans (17/20) agreed to participate. Significantly more PGW veterans with poorer global health after military service reported considering themselves now 'especially sensitive to certain chemicals' (86%, 12/14) than did the PGW veterans or era veterans in stable health (both comparison groups 30%, 3/10). Among PGW veterans, the subset with worse health associated with marked increases in chemical odor intolerance since their military service had a significantly higher odds ratio for exposure to multiple chemicals, notably wartime pesticides and insect repellent, than did comparison groups. The high rate of chemical sensitivity of PGW veterans with deteriorated health is almost three times that in PGW-era veterans and in elderly primary care outpatient veterans at the same Department of Veterans Affairs medical center and in community-based civilian samples (i.e., 30%). These preliminary findings suggest the need for further study of chemical sensitivity, including tests for acquired increases in neural sensitizability to multiple low-level chemicals, in ill PGW veterans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-732
Number of pages8
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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