Agent Orange Effects

Agent Orange was a toxic, plant-killing chemical (herbicide) that the U.S. military used to clear foliage during the Vietnam conflict. Exposure to the herbicide causes Agent Orange effects, which include cancer, congenital (birth) disorders and life-threatening health complications.


What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was a plant-killing chemical (herbicide). The United States military used Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict from 1962 to 1971 to clear trees, plants and vegetation from U.S. bases and to remove foliage used for cover. During this time, the U.S. sprayed 11 million gallons of Agent Orange over 20 million acres in Vietnam. The U.S. banned the use and production of the herbicide in 1971 after evidence of the deadly and harmful effects of Agent Orange became apparent.


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How many people were exposed to Agent Orange?

The exact number of people exposed to Agent Orange from 1962 to 1971 is unknown. Nearly 3 million American soldiers served in the armed forces in Vietnam during this time who may have been exposed to the herbicide. In addition, studies suggest that Agent Orange exposure reached over 3 million people living in Vietnam during the conflict.

What are the symptoms of Agent Orange effects?

Agent Orange effects range in severity. The chemicals in the herbicide affect everyone who had exposure differently. Symptoms could include the following:

  • Acne on your face, including blackheads.
  • Getting infections frequently.
  • Numbness, prickly or tingling feeling in your hands and feet.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Swelling of your feet and legs (edema).
  • Tremors while your muscles are at rest.


What are the conditions caused by Agent Orange?

The chemicals in Agent Orange caused several diseases and health-related issues in people who were exposed to the herbicide. Originally, there were 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, but over time, medical research found several additional conditions that affected people who had exposure to Agent Orange.

Conditions caused by Agent Orange include:

Does Agent Orange cause congenital disorders?

Yes, research suggests that children born of veterans who had Agent Orange exposure may have spina bifida or other congenital disorders (disorders from birth). This occurs because the herbicide damaged the parent’s reproductive organs and cells, which affects the growth and development of their biological children.


Is Agent Orange deadly?

Yes. Complications from Agent Orange exposure were life-threatening and caused death. Over 300,000 U.S. veterans and over 400,000 Vietnamese people died from exposure to Agent Orange from 1962 to 1971. The severity of the effects depended on how much of the toxic chemical entered your body during exposure.

Possible Causes

What caused Agent Orange effects?

The chemicals in the herbicide caused Agent Orange effects. People got the effects of Agent Orange after exposure to the herbicide.

Agent Orange contains a chemical called dioxin. Dioxin is a compound made from burning chlorine with carbon and hydrogen. The molecules of these chemicals are toxic to plants, animals and humans. When dioxin enters your body, it can damage or destroy vital organs, cells, your immune system and your hormones. Dioxin is a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer.

Agent Orange was extremely deadly because the U.S. sprayed 20 times more than the manufacturer recommended in the environment. The effects of Agent Orange use are still present today among Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese people living in central and southern Vietnam.

How do you get exposure to Agent Orange?

People were exposed to the chemicals in Agent Orange by:

  • Breathing it in.
  • Ingesting it while eating or drinking food or beverages that the herbicide touched.
  • Absorbing it through your skin from physical contact with the herbicide.
  • Absorbing it through your eyes, mouth or breaks in your skin while the chemicals were in the air.

Care and Treatment

How are Agent Orange effects treated?

Treatment for Agent Orange effects varies based on how the herbicide interacted with your body. Treatment could include:

  • Surgery to correct congenital disorders.
  • Removal surgery or radiation for cancers.
  • Taking medications.
  • Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Your healthcare provider will diagnose and treat the effects of Agent Orange if you had exposure to the herbicide. Treatment for one person won’t be the same for someone else because each person’s body reacts differently to the toxic chemicals in the herbicide.

How can I prevent Agent Orange effects?

You can’t prevent Agent Orange effects after exposure to the herbicide. While the herbicide received a ban in 1971 and the U.S. destroyed all remaining inventory shortly after, there are still lingering effects present among veterans and Vietnamese people who lived in areas where the U.S. sprayed Agent Orange.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider about Agent Orange effects?

If you’re a veteran who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict between 1962 and 1975, you may have been exposed to the toxic herbicide if you:

  • Served in Vietnam, Korean demilitarized zones or at Air Force bases in Thailand.
  • Flew or worked on C-123 aircraft.
  • Served at herbicide test locations or storage facilities outside of Vietnam.
  • Lived in central or southern Vietnam.

If you met any of the above criteria, contact your healthcare provider or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans are eligible to receive an Agent Orange health exam, clinical treatment and healthcare benefits.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Even though Agent Orange isn’t actively in use or production, the effects of the toxic herbicide still affect millions of people and pose several risks to their health. Contact your healthcare provider if you believe you had exposure to Agent Orange or if you experience any symptoms that interfere with your ability to thrive.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/10/2023.

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