Understanding bronchiolitis obliterans, aka ‘popcorn lung,’ and its link to vaping
Today e-cigarettes are often touted as the safer alternative to cigarettes, but a new study is linking the flavorings used in the vaporized nicotine sticks to an irreversible disease called obliterative bronchiolitis, or popcorn lung. The medical community has known for years that flavorings can cause this devastating disease.
Back in 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health helped lead an investigation into former microwaveable popcorn factory workers who were coming down with the severe form of bronchitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says its investigation linked the occupational exposure to the debilitating disease.
People with obliterative bronchiolitis suffer from shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and night sweats, among other symptoms. It’s an irreversible disease, and it can be life-threatening in severe cases.
AOL News says the new study that links e-cigarettes to popcorn lung was led by the Harvard School of Public Health and found that electronic cigarettes exposed smokers to at least one of the three most toxic chemicals in 47 of the 51 brands studied. But the bad news doesn’t stop there: One of the toxic chemicals—diacetyl, which is used in both fruity and popcorn flavorings—was so high in 39 of the e-cigarettes that it exceeded the lab’s range of detection.
What causes popcorn lung?
The root cause of popcorn lung is the exposure to the toxic chemical diacetyl. The disease got its nickname after being linked to microwaveable popcorn factory workers who handled the chemical and inhaled it.
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath that gets worse after physical exertion
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
These symptoms are closely related to those of a respiratory infection, which means obliterative bronchiolitis can go undiagnosed—or even be misdiagnosed. X-rays, CT scans and biopsies can help diagnose popcorn lung.
Popcorn lung is an irreversible disease. MedicineNet says you if have the disease, you will be prescribed to stay away from the toxic chemical that caused it—diacetyl. Treating the disease requires close consultation with your doctor, who most likely will treat the symptoms. MedicineNet also says that in the worst-case scenario, a lung transplant may be needed.