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Can you join the military with asthma? The short answer is it depends. The military has a long and varied history of how they handle recruits with different medical conditions. Generally, the rule is medical conditions that impact availability and effectiveness are automatic disqualifiers. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard for people to breathe, especially during bouts of prolonged exercise. In this article, we’ll look at how all 5 branches of the military view asthma and what to do if you have asthma and still want to serve your country.
What Happens At MEPS?
Your medical examination at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) will play a significant role in if you can join the military with asthma. During the initial examination, the doctor will get you to perform a pulmonary function test. This is a non-invasive test that will measure the size of your lungs, airflow, capacity, and gas exchange. This information will help the doctor analyze how much of impact asthma is having on your life. If you score low on the pulmonary function test due to asthmatic symptoms, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to join the military. However, if you pass, you can feel confident in joining, even if you have asthma.
What Is Asthma?
As mentioned earlier, asthma is a chronic lung disease that interferes with breathing. Asthma causes inflammation in your lungs which causes your airways to swell and narrow. There aren’t any concrete reasons why some people get asthma, and others don’t. The accepted theory is a combination of environmental and genetic factors that contribute to the development of asthma. Asthma also causes the production of excess mucus, which interferes with breathing. These symptoms are usually accompanied by wheezing, which is a whistling sound that you can hear when you breathe in and breath out.
The way asthma presents itself varies from person to person, depending on their overall health and the severity of their asthma. Common symptoms include chest tightness/pain, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. Asthma attacks are acute flare-ups of asthma symptoms that create an emergency situation. Exercise, allergies, and irritants such as chemical fumes and dust can cause asthma symptoms to flare up. Even well-managed asthma can flare up when a person is exposed to mold, fumes, or extremely dry air.
If you currently suffer from asthma and have to take medication to manage your daily symptoms, it’s unlikely that you’ll be accepted in the Navy. Any presence of asthma over the age of 13 will require a doctor to sign a waiver to allow you to serve. The doctor at the Military Entrance Processing Station may be willing to sign this waiver for you, depending on the results of your pulmonary function test. Navy careers include firefighter and submariner, where asthma will almost certainly reduce your ability to perform.
Air Force Policy
Similarly, to the Navy, you’ll have to take a pulmonary function test before joining the Air Force. If you require an inhaler daily to manage your symptoms, you won’t be able to join the Air Force, especially as a pilot. However, there are office jobs and air traffic control jobs that don’t require a high level of physical fitness. Depending on your health, there’s a chance you’ll be accepted.