Popcorn Lung: Causes, Treatments, and Options

Bronchiolitis Obliterans, also known as popcorn lung, is a health condition that affects a person’s lungs and can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and in extreme cases can be debilitating. Often the disease is caused by the inhalation of flavoring chemicals such as diacetyl. While diacetyl and other flavoring chemicals are considered safe to eat, they can cause serious problems when inhaled. 

Interestingly, even though the nickname “popcorn lung” has stuck over the years, many microwave popcorn makers have switched to other flavorings for a variety of reasons. Perhaps these days “e-cigarette lung” would be a more fitting name as some studies have found that up to 75 percent of e-cigarettes contain diacetyl or other harmful flavoring chemicals. 

Causes of Popcorn Lung

As noted above, popcorn lung is caused by breathing in large quantities of artificial flavoring chemicals such as diacetyl. This was originally learned when workers in microwave popcorn factories were getting the disease because they were exposed to the chemicals’ harmful effects. 

However, diacetyl and other artificial chemicals found in microwave popcorn and other foods are classified by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that by consuming the chemical you are unlikely to experience complications. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. At least one Colorado man successfully sued a microwave popcorn manufacturer after suffering from popcorn lung because he ate two bags of microwave popcorn a day for many years.

As diacetyl has migrated to the e-cigarette world, the dangers of its inhalation could someday soon affect thousands of individuals. This is especially true since e-cigarettes and the chemicals it contains are more naturally inhaled than the chemicals contained in microwave popcorn.

Diagnosis of Popcorn Lung

If you are suffering from symptoms of popcorn lung such as shortness of breath and coughing, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor might order several tests. These include:

  • CT scan
  • X-ray
  • Biopsy

A biopsy will be the most effective at determining whether or not you have popcorn lung. If you do, your doctor will then come up with a plan to treat your symptoms.

Early detection is the key as symptoms can be treated far more effectively in the early stages. There are several things your doctor can prescribe to help you manage your symptoms of popcorn lung. One thing is that they might give you various steroids or antibiotics to help reduce the swelling in your lungs.

It is possible your doctor will also prescribe drugs to help with your cough and keep your bronchioles from further damage. Finally, your doctor will also advise you to stay away from whatever caused your case of popcorn lung in the first place. If that happens to be e-cigarettes, it would mean ending the usage of them.

If your case of popcorn lung has come from your job, such as working at a factory where you are exposed to the harmful effects of diacetyl or other artificial flavorings, there are a number of protective measures you can take.

After consulting with your doctor, if you do in fact have popcorn lung, it might also be a good idea to contact a qualified personal injury lawyer. A skilled lawyer will be able to investigate your situation and determine whether or not your case is the result of the negligence of a company or other party. 

If so, you could be able to take legal action in the form of a product liability or workplace injury claim against those responsible. Not only could you seek compensation to help cover the costs you have incurred such as medical bills, but it could hold these companies accountable and protect others from falling prey to their nefarious business practices.