What Is Popcorn Lung?

Popcorn lung was named for its major cause, the artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorns.
Popcorn lung was named for its major cause, the artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorns.

Popcorn lung is a nickname that is used to refer to bronchiolitis obliterans, a lung disease that causes inflammation in the bronchioles, which leads to obstruction of the bronchioles tubules. The name “popcorn lung” was obtained from one of its major causes, inhalation of diacetyl, an organic compound that is used to make artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorns. Popcorn lung is often confused with organizing pneumonia. The two diseases are neither related nor similar.


During the earlier stages of Popcorn lung, the disease is often diagnosed incorrectly as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or pneumonia. It frequently requires more tests which are supposed to include chest x-ray, lung volume tests, spirometry, lung biopsy, and the diffusing capacity of the lung. Doctors or physicians may also want to test how well the lungs of a suspected patient are working.


Popcorn lungs is caused by several factors including exposure to some industrial inhalants and toxic fumes such as sulfur dioxide, hydrogen bromide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, phosgene, and mustard gas. Activated charcoal has also been known to possibly cause popcorn lung when it is administered as an emergency medication. Furthermore, indigestion of large amounts of papaverine found in sauropus androgynus has been known to lead to the infection. Inhalation of diacetyl can also lead to popcorn lung disease. Diacetyl occurs naturally in wines and is used in the production of artificial butter flavoring used in the production of candies. Interestingly, in some instances, popcorn lung has been known to be idiopathic, which implies that an individual can contract the disease without any known cause.

Signs and Symptoms

Popcorn lung has signs and symptoms that are almost similar to the many other diseases related to the respiratory system. Some of the most common signs exhibited by the patient include dry coughs that occasionally cause pain to the chest, wheezing, general fatigue, and shortness of breath. The shortness of breath and dry coughs is brought about by the inflammations and scarring of the airways in the lungs. The symptoms become severe as time goes by, after the incubation period. However, in some cases the symptoms do not develop gradually as expected, the symptoms might severely attack the victim suddenly after the incubation period.


Popcorn lung is treatable. However, in severe infection cases, the victims usually require a lung transplant. After a lung transplant, the victims are usually still at risk of re-contracting the disease. The re-contraction is because popcorn lung is a common example of chronic infection. Previous studies have found out that inhalation of combinations of fluticasone propionate, oral montelukast, and oral azithromycin has a capability of stabilizing the disease. Besides, the inhalation of the combination has also been known to slow down the progression and spread of popcorn lung.


To prevent the disease, individuals working in industries that pose the risk of the contracting the disease should at all times use protective wears to prevent them from inhalation of the toxic fumes. The workers should also be educated about the dangers that the fumes could possibly bring to their health. Avoidance of lung-disease cause flavorings is a major step in the prevention of the disease.


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