Occupational Risk of Low-Level Blast Exposure and TBI-Related Medical Diagnoses: A Population-Based Epidemiological Investigation (2005-2015)

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Dec 8;18(24):12925. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182412925.


Because traumatic brain injury (TBI)-most often caused by exposure to high-level blast (HLB)-is a leading cause of medical evacuations of deployed U.S. service members in recent conflicts, researchers seek to identify risk factors for TBI. Previous research using self-reported data has identified low-level blast (LLB) as one such risk factor and suggests an association with susceptibility to and symptoms associated with TBI. This article presents a population-based study of all branches of military service that examines the association between occupational risk for LLB and both clinically diagnosed TBIs-from concussions to severe and penetrating TBIs-and conditions commonly comorbid with concussion. Using archival medical and career records from >2 million service members between 2005-2015, this work demonstrates that occupational risk of LLB is associated with any TBI, mild TBI, moderate TBI, cognitive problems, communication problems, hearing problems, headaches, any behavioral health condition, anxiety, drug abuse/dependence, alcohol abuse/dependence, delirium/dementia, posttraumatic stress disorder, post-concussive syndrome, tinnitus, fatigue, and migraines. Understanding the full scope of the effects of LLB on service members will help ensure the health and readiness of service members and may influence both military policy and clinical practice guidelines for blast-induced injuries.

Keywords: TBI; blast; concussion; epidemiology; healthcare; high-level blast; low-level blast; military; overpressure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blast Injuries* / epidemiology
  • Brain Concussion* / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / etiology
  • Explosions
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel*
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*