What is popcorn lung?
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a rare form of lung disease. This is commonly referred to as the juul and popcorn lung.
These are the smallest airways in the lung. When inflamed, symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing can occur.
Workers at a popcorn factory fell ill after inhaling harmful chemicals.
One of these chemicals is diacetyl. It is an artificial butter flavored ingredient found in:
- pop corn
- fruit drinks
- some dairy products
Many food companies have removed it from their products, but it is still found in the majority of e-cigarette flavors.
The lung symptoms of popcorn are similar to those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lung symptoms of popcorn often occur two to eight weeks after exposure to harmful chemicals, toxic particles or fumes.
Common symptoms include difficulty breathing and a persistent, progressive, dry cough.
These symptoms can appear for weeks or months and often occur regularly. They are not episodic like asthma, for example.
Other symptoms may include:
- flu-like illness with fever
- unexplained fatigue
- weight loss
- irritation of the eyes, skin, mouth or nose, if caused by chemical exposure
Seek immediate medical attention if your symptoms worsen or if you experience symptoms:
- difficulty in breathing
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- fear of heights
Popcorn lung can result from exposure to certain harmful chemicals, toxic particles and fumes that are found in microwave popcorn factories and e-cigarettes.
However, the toxic fumes and chemicals associated with popcorn lung are not limited to these factories or e-cigarettes.
Other ailments can also lead to popcorn lung formation. Some of them include:
- respiratory disease, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
- a viral infection, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- collagen vascular diseases
- drug reaction
- a lung transplant (the most common form of chronic lung transplant rejection)
Usually, it takes two to eight weeks after illness or exposure to chemicals for symptoms to appear. In other cases, such as a lung transplant, it may take several months or years for symptoms to appear.
Using an electronic cigarette
One way to reduce your risk of popcorn lung disease is to limit or stop the use of e-cigarettes.
The researchers found that more than 75 percent of flavored e-cigarettes and liquid refills were positive for diacetyl – the same chemical responsible for this disease in workers in microwave popcorn factories.
While the long-term health effects of e-cigarette smoke and vaping have not yet been fully studied, they may increase your risk for lung damage.
For now, the best way to reduce your risk of lung damage is to quit smoking e-cigarettes. Check out our best apps of the year that will help you overcome your nicotine addiction.
They may also have a lung function test. This test measures how well your lungs are working.
General anesthesia may be required for this type of biopsy. Your surgeon will make an incision in your chest and remove a piece of lung tissue. They will then send the lung sample to a lab for analysis.
Your doctor will help you determine which diagnostic method is best for your situation.
There is currently no cure for popcorn lung, but there are treatments to help relieve symptoms. Treatment can also help slow the progression of the disease.
Prescription corticosteroids are a treatment option. Your doctor may also recommend immunosuppressive therapy to decrease your body’s immune response.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also prescribe medications:
- cough suppressants
- bronchodilators (medicines that help open the airways)
- or supplementation with oxygen, if necessary
Some people living with severe cases of lung popcorn are candidates for a lung transplant. However, the popcorn lung can redevelop as a complication of the transplant.
See your doctor if you have popcorn lung symptoms or if you think you’ve been exposed to harmful chemicals. They can refer you to a specialist or determine the best treatment plan for you.
To prevent popcorn lung, you will need to avoid or limit your exposure to chemicals like diacetyl.
If you are at risk of having popcorn lungs in your workplace, make sure the proper engineering controls are in place. Also use personal protective equipment.
If you have difficulty quitting while vaping or e-cigarettes, speak to a healthcare professional or call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). You can also visit the SmokeFree.gov site.
You can also sign up for SmokefreeTXT to receive text messages every day to help you quit smoking.
Although popcorn lung is an irreversible disease, treatment can help you manage your symptoms.
The best way to prevent lung popcorn is to limit exposure to toxins and harmful chemicals. Make sure you are protected at work and quit smoking, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices.