This Month In Health
  • Popcorn Lung and Electronic Cigarettes
    When hundreds of microwave popcorn factory workers developed a serious, chronic lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans (a.k.a. popcorn lung), the cause was traced back to inhalation of the buttery-flavored chemical diacetyl. Today, you can find diacetyl in many of the flavors used in electronic cigarettes. Does this mean that folks who smoke e-cigarettes are at risk for popcorn lung? Keep reading to find out. Read >>
  • Obesity: Anything But Harmless
    If you’re overweight, you know some of the obvious the trouble it can cause. Clothes don’t fit right, you feel self-conscious, and you have no energy. If you’re tired of waiting to lose weight, don’t wait any longer. Here are a few reasons to get started on the path to a thinner you today. Read >>
  • People Need People
    Having friends is good for your emotional and mental well being as well as your physical health. Multiple studies show that people who have close family, friends, and community support are happier, live longer, and have fewer health problems. Read >>
  • Slim Pickings
    After years of yo-yo dieting and trying multiple diet programs, pills, and potions, you’ve had enough. Your health is at risk, you’re tired of being overweight, and you want your life back. You and your doctor have come to the decision it’s time to consider weight-loss surgery. Which one is for you? Read >>
Health and Fitness News

Popcorn Lung and Electronic Cigarettes

What you need to know about bronchiolitis obliterans

You may wonder how a lung condition came to be known as popcorn lung. Not long ago, microwave popcorn was made with a chemical called diacetyl. When hundreds of microwave popcorn factory workers developed a serious, chronic lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans (BO), the cause was traced back to inhalation of the buttery-flavored chemical diacetyl. The illness later became known as popcorn lung.

Besides microwave popcorn, diacetyl was also used to make caramel and certain dairy products that have since been discontinued. But the chemical is not gone. Today, you can find diacetyl in many of the flavors used in electronic cigarettes. Does this mean that folks who smoke e-cigarettes are at risk for popcorn lung? Keep reading to find out.

Chemical Causes

Bronchiolitis obliterans may get its nickname from popcorn, but diacetyl isn’t the only chemical known to cause this serious lung condition. Acetaldehyde (found in marijuana smoke and certain e-cigarettes), ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde (found in building materials and glue), metal oxide (welding fumes), mustard gas, and other harsh chemicals are known to cause popcorn lung.

Other times, popcorn lung can be the result of serous illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or rheumatoid arthritis. People who get a lung transplant are also at a high risk for popcorn lung.

Problem Symptoms

Illness or exposure to toxic gases irritate and inflame the tiny air sacs in the lungs. This leads to scarring that thickens and narrows the airways, making it difficult to get enough air.

Because of this, popcorn lung causes symptoms similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Symptoms include a fatigue, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. It generally takes between two weeks and two months for symptoms to appear after exposure to a harmful gas or illness.  

Popping Diagnosis and Treatment

In order to diagnose popcorn lung, your doctor may order various tests including lung function tests, x-rays, a CT scan, and a biopsy. Early diagnosis of the disease may help slow its progression or keep it from worsening.

While there’s no cure for popcorn lung except a lung transplant, medications can be used to reduce the inflammation that causes scarring, protect your airways from further damage, and relieve your cough.

Prominence of Diacetyl

Despite the dangers of popcorn lung, diacetyl is still found in certain e-cigarette liquid to create flavors like vanilla, coconut, maple, and others. A Harvard study found that 39 out of 51 brands of e-cigarettes tested contained diacetyl.
Until recently, e-cigarettes in the United States were free from any government oversight regarding their ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration now has some authority over their production, but it’ll likely be several years before the harmful chemicals are taken off the market, if indeed they ever are. Strangely, diacetyl seems to pose no health risk if eaten, only if inhaled as through e-cigarettes.

Many use the risk of popcorn lung as a reason to scare people away from vaping. While it makes sense that you should avoid a harmful chemical like diacetyl, the vaping community says the theories regarding diacetyl are merely theoretical since no documented cases of popcorn lung have been attributed to e-cigarettes. Vaping backers also contend that diacetyl is found in higher concentration in cigarettes and yet no cases of popcorn lung have been attributed to smoking.

While the jury is out on whether e-cigarettes can lead to popcorn lung, you should know that vaping might not be as safe as you think. While safer than cigarettes, there are still potential health risks involved.