Popcorn lung can be caused by inhaling a certain type of artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorn. It can effect popcorn production workers, as well as consumers. If you have been diagnosed with popcorn lung, don’t hesitate to contact our team of lawyers at McEldrew Purtell today by filling out our form or calling 1-866-382-4806. We are hard-working lawyers for hard-working people.
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 is included within a larger group of disorders known as interstitial lung diseases (ILDs). Some ILDs are caused by behavioral factors, like smoking. Other ILDs, such as popcorn lung, are caused by chemical exposure.
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. Diacetyl and its substitute, 2,3-pentanedione, are widely used flavoring compounds. There have been extensive reports of serious respiratory disease and decreased lung function in employees exposed to diacetyl. The use of diacetyl, however, is not limited to the popcorn industry.
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.
Diacetyl is used extensively in the food flavoring and production industries. Flavorings can be either natural or manmade. Some are simple and made up of only one ingredient, but others are complex mixtures of several substances. Employees may be exposed to flavorings in the form of vapors, dusts, or mists. There are many different types of flavorings and most have not been tested for respiratory toxicity.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the safety of food additives for consumption, but it does not require safety testing of other routes relevant to occupational exposure, such as inhalation.
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.
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:
- Shortness of Breath (especially with exercise)
- Night Sweats
- Unexplained Weight Loss
Exposure to high levels of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione can cause inflammation of the skin and mucosal surfaces (eyes, nose, and/or throat). However, because the symptoms are so similar to asthma and tobacco-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), general health care practitioners often have difficulty in correctly diagnosing the disease.
A diagnosis of popcorn lung begins with the physician taking a thorough medical history of the patient, including past illnesses, family medical history, social history and employment history. Additional testing is necessary to confirm a diagnosis. Lung function testing, chest X-rays and CT scans usually are done to help determine a preliminary diagnosis. A lung tissue biopsy, which often requires an open lung surgical procedure, might be necessary to confirm the diagnosis of popcorn lung. The disease can be randomly located in lung tissue, making it difficult at times for the physician to make an accurate diagnosis.