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Popcorn Lung: Know the Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention | Good Doctor

Besides the heart, the lungs are organs that play an important role in the human body. Functions and tasks in matters of breathing can run suboptimal if there is interference with these organs, one of which is the condition of popcorn lungs.

So, what exactly are popcorn lungs? How are the symptoms? Is it dangerous? Come on, find the answer with the following review!

What is popcorn lung?

popcorn lung
X-ray results of people with popcorn lung. Photo source: CBS New York.

Popcorn lung is a rare condition that occurs when there is inflammation and scarring of the smallest airways of the bronchioles. In the medical world, this disease is called bronchiolitis obliterans.

This condition needs proper handling, because it can endanger safety. This is because the bronchioles are one of the most important parts of the lungs which function as a place for oxygen to circulate in the bloodstream.

Furthermore, the oxygen will be sent to various parts of the body so that each organ can carry out its functions properly. If the bronchioles are inflamed, the process of absorbing oxygen into the blood may not be optimal.

Also read: Get to know Lung Infection: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

the cause

Called ‘popcorn’ lung, because the disease is triggered by one of the chemicals commonly used to make corn processed foods, namely diacetyl. This substance is also commonly found in vapes or e-cigarettes.

Generally, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) himself considers diacetyl quite safe for consumption, but dangerous if inhaled. Many food manufacturers have abandoned the use of these materials, but not in some e-cigarette products.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is triggered by exposure to inhaled chemicals, such as toxic fumes from popcorn processing equipment and e-cigarettes. The researchers found that more than 75 percent of e-cigarettes contain diacetyl.

However, popcorn lung can also be affected by other factors, such as:

  • Respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Viral infection of the respiratory tract
  • Diseases of the blood vessels
  • Drug reaction
  • Lung transplant.

Popcorn lung symptoms

Quoted from Healthline, Symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans usually appear two to eight weeks after exposure to diacetyl. In other cases, such as complications from a lung transplant, signs may appear months or years later.

The main symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans are similar to those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), namely difficulty breathing and a persistent dry cough. People with popcorn lung may also experience:

  • Fever
  • Tired for no reason
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing
  • Skin, eye, nose and mouth irritation by exposure to diacetyl
  • Shortness of breath and chest pain
  • Dizzy.

Examination and handling

Popcorn lung is often confused with asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema, because the symptoms are relatively similar. Therefore, it is important to get checked out immediately when you feel the symptoms mentioned so that the condition does not get worse.

The right examination to see the possibility of a problem with the lungs is a chest X-ray or CT scan. However, a lung biopsy may be more effective for determining the condition, namely by taking a small sample from that part of the organ.

Unfortunately, there is currently no effective treatment for this disease. Treatment is usually done by relieving symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Medications that doctors may prescribe for popcorn lung patients are:

  • Corticosteroids to relieve inflammation in the lungs
  • Immunosuppressants to reduce the immune response, preventing further damage to the bronchioles
  • Cough reliever
  • Bronchodilators to help open the airways
  • Oxygen supplementation, if needed.

If the symptoms are not treated, popcorn lung can be fatal. In very severe cases, a transplant procedure may be needed. Although, it can still cause other conditions due to complications.


Popcorn lung is a rare but serious health problem. Many people mistake it for asthma because the signs are similar. Not to mention, new symptoms that appear within a span of weeks can make you not realize that you have it.

Prevention is the best thing that can be done. The only way is to limit or even completely avoid exposure to chemicals such as diacetyl, such as:

  • Quit smoking vapes
  • If you work in a popcorn or popcorn processing facility, be sure to apply proper controls, one of which is wearing personal protective equipment.

So, that’s a review of popcorn lung and its trigger factors that you need to know. In order not to be misdiagnosed, check with your doctor as soon as you feel the symptoms as mentioned, OK?

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