Do you or your loved one work at a food manufacturing platform producing popcorn flavoring? If so, you may have been exposed to the chemical diacetyl, an active ingredient found in certain popcorn flavoring. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What Is Popcorn Lung?
As the name suggests, popcorn lung is the nickname for a condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans. This condition targets the smallest airwaves in your lungs, making it difficult for you to breathe.
When you breathe in oxygen, it travels down your windpipe, also known as the trachea. The air then branches into two tubes, one heading to the right side of your lung and the other to the left. These tubes are called bronchi.
The bronchi further split into smaller tubes that seem like tree branches. The tiniest of all these tubes are known as the bronchioles.
Tiny air sacs called alveoli sit at the end of each bronchiole. The oxygen in the air sac then mixes with blood before circulation throughout the human body.
However, when you inhale air containing the chemical diacetyl, it scars the air sacs in your lungs, narrowing them in the process. As a result, you will experience difficulty breathing. Shortly after, you’ll begin to cough, gasping for air.
Common Causes of Popcorn Lung
As mentioned before, this condition is usually triggered by the chemical diacetyl found in the following places or products.
Workers in some food manufacturing plants are at a high risk of suffering from popcorn lung. The risk is even higher for workers in popcorn manufacturing industries. This is because diacetyl is used to add flavor to microwavable popcorn.
Some flavors used in electronic cigarettes have been found to contain diacetyl. For example, at the beginning of 2020, there were at least 2,800 hospitalizations from injuries caused by electronic cigarettes throughout the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. In addition, at least 68 deaths were confirmed at the time.
Earlier in 2015, a study revealed that at least 75% of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill liquids contain diacetyl, the chemical that causes popcorn lung.
It is also important to note that popcorn lung disease is not only caused by some electronic cigarettes or popcorn. In fact, diacetyl is found in many other household items containing the following chemicals:
Hydrochloric acid is usually used in industrial processes, such as dust removal. Examples of household products that contain this acid include toilet bowl and bathroom tile cleaners, fireworks, batteries, photo flashbulbs, etc.
Welders are at a higher risk of inhaling metal oxide fumes, which contain diacetyl. This explains why individuals working in such environments must wear protective equipment. Unfortunately, some industries fail to meet certain safety standards as required by state and federal laws, exposing their workers to dangerous fumes in the process.
Ammonia and Chlorine
Many household cleaning products contain ammonia and chlorine, which are also some of the little-known causes of popcorn lung disease. For example, some glass cleaners contain ammonia, while some disinfectants, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners may contain chlorine.
Sulfur mustard is a chemical weapon. Also known as mustard gas, this gas can find its way into the human body through air, skin, or eye contact. It usually breaks down slowly in the body and builds up over time, leading to severe respiratory problems like popcorn lung disease.
Diacetyl is also found in other food products such as:
- chips and crackers;
- some ice-creams;
- hot cocoa;
- cookies; and
Symptoms of Popcorn Lung
Some of the most common symptoms of this disease include:
- dry cough;
- night sweats;
- gasping for air;
- hardening of the lung tissue; and
- severe skin and eye irritation.
Popcorn Lung Treatment
Unfortunately, popcorn lung has no cure at the moment. For this reason, doctors recommend certain treatment procedures to manage the condition.
For example, your doctor may recommend prescription corticosteroids or immunosuppressive therapy. Other treatment options include the use of cough suppressants, oxygen supplementation, or bronchodilators (medication used to dilate your bronchioles, making it much easier to breathe).
In some extreme cases, popcorn lung patients may need lung transplant to reverse the effects of this disease.