Popcorn lung disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Popcorn lung disease is a recently discussed condition. It is the common way of referring to bronchiolitis obliterans. This disorder is rare, but its incidence is progressively increasing.

Popcorn lung disease

Popcorn lung disease is so called because the first described cases appeared in people exposed to a compound used to make popcorn. It affects the capacity of the lungs and causes other complications.

What is popcorn lung disease?

Popcorn lung disease is also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, explains the American Lung Association. This term refers to inflammation of the bronchioles. These are the branches of the bronchi, i.e., part of the lower airway.

When the bronchioles become inflamed, edema develops in the airways. In addition, the process leads to fibrosis. All this causes the bronchioles to become narrower and air can not reach them properly.

Popcorn lung disease was first found in people who worked in popcorn factories. The cause was that people were exposed to something called diacetyl, which is a substance that occurs naturally in some fermentation processes and is often used in the food industry. It is used to give food a buttery flavor.

Usually, this flavoring is combined with other ingredients to obtain the artificial flavor. The problem is that, when inhaled, the vapor containing diacetyl can lead to popcorn lung disease.

Popcorn lung disease

Why does it occur?

One of the main causes is the inhalation of diacetyl, which is toxic to the lungs, but there are also other factors that trigger this condition, such as the use of electronic cigarettes.

Many people think that they are a good option for quitting smoking. Until recently, the possible harmfulness of these types of cigarettes was unknown. In fact, many of their side effects are still being investigated.

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According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, almost 75% of people who smoked electronic cigarettes or vapes had diacetyl in their lungs. In other words, they were exposed to the same chemicals as workers in certain food factories.

In addition, popcorn lung disease may be secondary to other causes. For example, it can occur after a lung transplant. In this case, it is due to chronic rejection of that organ.

Other causes

A study published in Science and Health explains that bronchiolitis obliterans in children usually follows a respiratory infection which may be caused by adenovirus. However, there have also been cases of influenza, measles, and Legionella infections.

Among the possible causes of popcorn lung disease are autoimmune pathologies. For example, certain vasculitides, which are disorders in which inflammation of blood vessel walls occurs. It can even appear in rheumatoid arthritis.

Similarly, there are cases secondary to the ingestion of certain drugs. Any inhaled substance, such as cocaine, causes severe damage to the lungs, as they are toxic to the tissue.

Popcorn lung disease

Symptoms of popcorn lung disease

Symptoms of popcorn lung disease do not appear immediately. In fact, it is estimated that symptoms appear between two and eight weeks after exposure to the chemical in question.

When the cause is an autoimmune disorder or a lung transplant, it may take years for symptoms to appear. The condition is the obstruction of the bronchioles, which is irreversible.

This causes the lung capacity to become smaller and smaller. The expiratory power, which is the action of expelling air from the lungs, decreases. Popcorn lung disease is clinically similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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As explained by specialists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms include nonproductive cough and shortness of breath. In addition, wheezing, whistling sounds, etc., may occur.

Some people experience constant tiredness and malaise, fever, weight loss, or night sweats. When the cause is chemical exposure, eye or skin irritation is common.

Prevention of popcorn lung disease

Popcorn lung disease may be preventable. Above all, it is important to stop smoking e-cigarettes. For factory workers, it is necessary that they have access to good safety equipment.

It is important to consider that this pathology is irreversible. It produces serious consequences at the pulmonary level that can greatly reduce the quality of life.

Popcorn Lung