Popcorn Lung – Causes, Treatment, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Popcorn Lung - Causes, Treatment, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Popcorn Lung is a name given to bronchiolitis obliterans. It is a medical condition that blocks the bronchioles, the smallest airways in the lungs, due to inflammation and as a result, leads to coughing and shortness of breath. Our lungs pick up the oxygen from the blood that is circulated in the entire body. When you breathe in, the air flows in your windpipe and further divides into two tubes that further divide into many more branches just like the trees, creating a very complex system. The smallest of these air tubes are called bronchioles and when they get irritated they narrow down, resulting in shortness of breath. Although the name popcorn lungs may sound strange, it is a well picked nick as bronchiolitis obliterans was found in the workers working in popcorn and dairy factories where the main harmful chemical causing this condition is found.

Popcorn Lungs Symptoms

It is difficult to recognize that you have Popcorn lungs since the symptoms are common in many of the other lung diseases such as asthma. One may confuse it with other respiratory problems. It all starts with inhaling harmful chemicals. One may notice the symptoms when exposed to these chemicals within 2 weeks to 2 months’ time. The most common symptoms of Popcorn lung are having bad cough or persistent shortening of breath. You may experience this especially while working loads full of physical activities or doing exercises. If you just had a lung transplant, than you may be prone to this medical condition too.  The symptom may show up after years of time, therefore it is better to be on the lookout. If you feel that you are coughing a lot or you are lethargic when you don’t have a cold than it may be a sign of having popcorn lung. Other symptoms include

  • Dry Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritation on the skin, eye or nose, caused my exposure to the harmful chemicals. 

You should get a checkup done when you feel so. Immediate assistance is recommended when there is shortness of breath or chest pain.

Causes of Popcorn Lungs

The main culprit behind this medical condition is diacetyl. This chemical is especially found in inhaling fumes by microwaving popcorn or around caramel or dairy factories. There are also other toxic chemicals that can cause this condition that includes Acetaldehyde, Ammonia, Hydrochloric acid, Formaldehyde, Sulfur mustard etc. Many conditions that can lead to Popcorn lungs include respiratory conditions, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), collagen vascular diseases and drug reaction.

Other examples of catching this condition includes

  • Inhaling food flavoring fumes
  • Fumes from cleaning factories
  • Metallic fumes e.g. Welding
  • Industrial pollution
  • Diagnosis of Popcorn Lungs

As mentioned earlier, this medical condition can be confused with other diseases. Talk to your doctor if you feel that the symptoms have occured. He will talk about your current environment (exposure to chemicals) and check your medical history. He will also prescribe a chest X-ray or CT scan to check if you have bronchiolitis obliterans. You may also get a pulmonary function test done. It depends on your medical condition that which is more suitable for you. A lung biopsy is even possible.

Treatment of Popcorn Lungs

To date, there is no cure for popcorn lungs and correcting the scarring of bronchiolitis is irreversible. There are medicines that can help reduce the intensity of the symptoms that you are facing but will not help in perfectly removing the pain. It is better to monitor your health and recognize the symptoms as early as it can be so that you can minimize the damages. The type of treatment differs from patient to patient depending on the causes of the condition. If bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by inhaling toxic chemicals than you should immediately leave the locality .Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids for treatment or immunosuppressant therapy to help slow your body’s immune system. Other treatment solutions include

  • Antibiotics or steroids to ease the inflammation
  • Medicine for severe cough
  • Oxygen supplements
  • Drugs that slow your immune system

If left unattended, popcorn lungs can be fatal .It is better to go for a checkup and get the right treatment done for you.