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What Is “Popcorn Lung” & Is It Caused by Vaping?

"Popcorn lung" is an oddly non-threatening name for a condition that's far worse than it sounds. The medical term for popcorn lung is actually "bronchiolitis obliterans," which roughly means "obliteration of the bronchioles." To understand this irreversible and potentially fatal condition, you need to understand how the lungs work.

When we breathe, the air travels down the windpipe into two tubes: the bronchi, which lead to our right and left lungs. The bronchi split into smaller and smaller tubes like the branches of a tree, and these smaller airways are called "bronchioles." The bronchioles get smaller and smaller until they reach the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs that hold oxygen until it is picked up the blood.

Popcorn lung causes the walls of these small airways to become scarred and swollen, which restricts airflow. As a result, the alveoli don't receive oxygen, which means the blood is unable to distribute as much oxygen to the rest of the body. As a result, people with popcorn lung experience shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. The symptoms have been said to feel similar to COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Why Is It Called "Popcorn Lung"?

Over ten years ago, workers in a microwave popcorn factory were found to have much higher rates of bronchiolitis obliterans than the general populace. A few deaths were tied to the disease, and hundreds of cases were eventually uncovered. This gave rise to the nickname "popcorn lung." Eventually, the cause of popcorn lung was found to be a common flavoring agent in microwave popcorn: diacetyl. As workers inhaled diacetyl all day, they were destroying their airways, creating serious lung problems for the rest of their lives. Popcorn manufacturers removed it from their products, and rightfully so.

However, that wasn't the end of diacetyl. The harmful chemical has found new life as a flavorant for a popular product among children and adults: e-cigarettes.

Vaping & Popcorn Lung

Vaping products work by using a heating element to turn a liquid, aka "e-juice," into an aerosol that the user can inhale. E-juice is where both the nicotine and flavor of the vapor is found. Diacetyl has been found to be used in flavors like vanilla, maple, coconut, and other popular e-juice varieties. To give you an idea of how common diacetyl is among vaping products, a Harvard study found the chemical to be used by 39 of 51 vape brands. 

In short, most buyers of vape products are likely being exposed to a chemical that will almost assuredly causing them permanent lung damage to a serious degree. If you're hoping the FDA will prevent e-cigarette companies from harming the public, think again: in July 2017, the FDA decided not to require vaping companies to submit their products for review until 2022. Until then, vaping products can contain pretty much whatever the companies want—including diacetyl.

If you've been harmed by vaping, speak with our vaping injury attorneys today to learn your financial and legal options. We offer free consultations to discuss what you can do next and how we can help. Call (888) 498-3023 or fill out our short online form.

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