Popcorn Lung: The Disease that Affects Vapers, Smokers, and Popcorn Fans

Vaping has been on the rise for a few years now, with many who stand outside blowing out massive vapour clouds saying the switch from smoking has made them feel better.

However, the phrase ‘popcorn lung’ has been lurking around for a while, and it’s never been clear if the disease is real, or simply a myth to put people off vaping.

Popcorn lung is a real condition that was first discovered in the mid-90s. What’s more, it doesn’t just affect vapers, it can affect smokers, and those who eat loads of popcorn, too.

Here’s all you need to know about popcorn lung.

What is popcorn lung?

Despite a name that some may see as fun or cute, popcorn lung is a serious and irreversible lung disease.

The medical term for it is bronchiolitis obliterans.

How did it get its name?

The real reason behind the name is that the disease is connected to the artificial butter flavouring, diacetyl.

Diacetyl is a yellowish, green liquid with a buttery flavour. It’s naturally produced in alcoholic beverages and is used as a food additive.

As it was commonly used in the butter flavouring for popcorn, this is how the term ‘popcorn lung’ came about.

Food processing factories that use the chemical involved – diacetyl – would see its workers suffering from the condition.

How was it discovered?

In 2000, the Missouri Department of Public Health discovered that eight employees at the Gilster-Mary Lee popcorn plant had developed popcorn lung.

After years of investigation, a link between inhaling diacetyl vapours and contracting this lung disease was found.

Those who eat large amounts of popcorn are also at risk – in 2007, a Colorado man who ate two bags of popcorn a day for 10 years developed popcorn lung.

In recent years, more effort has been made to reduce or stop the use of diacetyl as a food flavouring, with many popcorn makers no longer using the chemical.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are difficult to detect, but often include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Peeling skin
  • Inflammation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat

The condition is difficult to diagnose, as symptoms are similar to tobacco-related COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma.

Can it be cured?

The condition can be fatal, but there are medications that can slow down its progression and treat symptoms.

Unfortunately, in many cases, people with popcorn lung may have to get a lung transplant,  and even then, one of the largest risks associated with this operation is the condition coming back.

Why is it a risk for vapers?

Many e-liquids contain diacetyl, which vapers will inhale, resulting in the risk of contracting popcorn lung.

Smokers have already been exposed, too, as diacetyl is a tobacco additive found in cigarette smoke.

Vapers concerned about the use of diacetyl in e-liquids should avoid vendors who use it as flavouring.





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