Popcorn lung is a cute name for a serious condition. The condition is called bronchiolitis obliterans. It is an irreversible and progressive condition that resembles Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to some extent.

The nickname comes from the fact that the condition was first noticed among workers at a microwave popcorn processing plant. Microwave popcorn often uses a chemical called diacetyl to artificially give its popcorn a buttery flavor. In 2000, the workers began to sicken after working in the plant. Four of the eight workers were so sick that they were put on the lung transplant list. The cause of their condition was a vapor emitted from the diacetyl added to the popcorn.

Flavorings are often chemical in nature. The food industry uses a number of chemicals to enhance flavors. It is estimated that over 1,000 different flavoring ingredients used by the flavorings industry have the potential to cause respiratory conditions.

Diacetyl is also found in many of the “e-juices” that flavor e-cigarettes and vaping products. Inhaling this chemical is dangerous and can cause popcorn lung.

Popcorn Lung Basics

Bronchiolitis obliterans lives up to its name. The condition obliterates the smallest bronchioles and alveoli that we depend on to get oxygen into our bodies. The lungs each have bronchi that transfer air between the trachea and the lungs. The bronchi split off into smaller and smaller passageways through the lungs. The smallest of these branch off into the bronchioles. The bronchioles attach to the alveolar ducts and alveoli sacs. It is in these sacs where the body exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen.

Inhaling certain chemicals such as diacetyl causes inflammation and scarring in these tissues and passageways. This makes it difficult to breathe. The condition is progressive and has no cure.

Getting a Diagnosis

Getting popcorn lung properly diagnosed can be tricky. The symptoms can mimic other conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or even the flu early on in the disease. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night sweats
  • Dry cough; and
  • Fatigue.

Early on, victims are likely to dismiss the symptoms, thinking it is the flu and will get better. But the disease is progressive, and the symptoms will continue to get worse.

Diagnosis involves several steps including a full history, lung function testing (spirometry), chest X-rays, and CT scans, usually are also done to help determine a preliminary diagnosis. In order to obtain a definitive diagnosis, a lung biopsy is needed.

Treatments are available to minimize symptoms. Treatments are most effective when the condition is caught early on. Once diagnosed, it is imperative that the patient is removed from exposure to the chemical. Steroidal inhalers, antibiotics, immunosuppressants, and oxygen therapies are especially helpful in the early stages of the disease. In the later stages, a patient may be looking at a lung replacement.

Other Chemicals That Can Cause Popcorn Lung

Ammonia, hydrochloric acid, byproducts of welding, formaldehyde, chlorine, nitrous oxide, and mustard gas have all been shown to cause respiratory damage when inhaled. Other flavorings such as acetyl propionyl, which is similar to diacetyl, can cause the condition when inhaled. Some of these chemicals are used routinely in processing plants and other places of employment. Some workers are routinely exposed to these chemicals.

In rare cases, people have gotten the condition from eating enough microwave popcorn. In 2012, a Colorado man who had contracted the disease after eating 2 bags of microwave popcorn a day for a period of 10 years won a verdict of $7 million. He had inhaled the chemical on a consistent basis while making it and eating it.

This same chemical is now being linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a study out of the University of Minnesota reveals that diacetyl can cause proteins in the brain to misfold and resemble Alzheimer’s-linked form. And, the flavoring can also cross the blood-brain barrier. When the blood-brain barrier is compromised, substances that pass through can inhibit the brain’s natural amyloid-clearing mechanisms and, in turn, set the stage for the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Popcorn Lung

As late as 2015, diacetyl was found in some 75% of the samples tested of e-juices used in vaping products. While some products are substituting other flavorings, the chemical is still being used and the teens who love these flavorings may not be aware of the potential dangers.  The FDA has announced that it will not review these products until some time in 2022 at the earliest.

Contact the Clearwater Personal Injury Law Firm of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today

For more information, please contact the legal team of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Clearwater. We have four convenient locations in Florida: Clearwater, New Port Richey, and Tampa.

We serve throughout Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, and its surrounding areas:

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
1811 N. Belcher Road, Suite I-1
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 787-2500

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Congress Ave Office
2360 Congress Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33763
(727) 591-5610

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
6601 Memorial Hwy Suite 202
Tampa, FL 33615
(813) 686-7588

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
2515 Seven Springs Blvd.
New Port Richey, FL, 34655
(727) 815-8442