What is Popcorn Lung?
Popcorn lung, also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, is a condition that damages the bronchioles, the smallest airways of the lungs. Over time, inflammation associated with popcorn lung causes lung tissues and airways to scar and narrow, causing breathing difficulties. Popcorn lung gets its name from a medical condition that was first identified with workers at factories that produced microwaveable popcorn. The workers inhaled a chemical known as diacetyl, which was used to give a rich, buttery flavor to the popcorn.
Causes & Symptoms
The first reported cases of popcorn lung occurred in 1985 at a production facility where diacetyl was an ingredient used to make flavorings for the baking industry. In 2000, eight former employees of a microwave popcorn facility were also diagnosed with the disease. Diacetyl is used as a natural and artificial flavoring ingredient in bakery products, dairy products, snack foods and more. It is mainly used as a butter flavoring but is also used in the flavor formulation of many other flavors, including but not limited to strawberry, caramel, hazelnut, and butterscotch. It is also present as a natural byproduct in some fermented food products such as beer and roasted food products such as coffee.
Popcorn lung is a rare but lethal form of non-reversible obstructive lung disease. People with the disease experience compression, and even obstruction, in their bronchioles (the smallest airways of the lungs) due to the build-up of scar tissue. The main symptoms of popcorn lung are dry coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. These symptoms can develop slowly and gradually progress to more serious symptoms over time. Other symptoms of popcorn lung include:
- Fevers Cough (may be chronic)
- Shortness of breath (especially with exercise)
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss