Lung injuries and diseases are serious health conditions. Many workers face risks on the job that put them in a higher category for developing lung disease. A serious lung disease that often occurs in factories using flavoring chemicals is popcorn lung.
Sadly, many employees are unaware of the danger and risk they face. They are exposed to the chemicals that can cause bronchiolitis obliterans without their consent.
What is Popcorn Lung?
Popcorn lung is a nickname given to bronchiolitis obliterans. It causes the smallest airways in the lungs (bronchioles) to become inflamed and swell. The disease can cause scarring and damage in the lungs, which block the airways and restrict oxygen flow to the rest of the body.
Individuals with popcorn lung report a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms of popcorn lung include wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dry cough.
However, other symptoms have been reported, including flu-like symptoms, such as fevers, nausea, and aches. Other people reported night sweats and weight loss. A few people develop inflammation in the ears, nose, skin, or throat from being exposed to the chemicals that cause popcorn lung.
Why is Bronchiolitis Obliterans Called Popcorn Lung?
An outbreak of bronchiolitis obliterans occurred in a microwave popcorn factory in 2000. Researchers noted that the workers were exposed to a chemical used to flavor buttered microwave popcorn.
After inhaling the chemical, the workers developed bronchiolitis obliterans. Because the outbreak was tied to a microwave popcorn factory, bronchiolitis obliterans became known as popcorn lung.
Further research into the chemical that the employees inhaled, Diacetyl, showed that lung damage could occur from short-term exposure to the chemical. Diacetyl is used in a variety of products other than butter flavoring for popcorn. Some e-cigarette flavorings also contain Diacetyl.
Other Chemicals Could Cause Popcorn Lung
Some chemicals that could potentially cause popcorn lungs include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Mustard Gas
- Hydrochloric Acid
- Welding byproducts (Welder’s Disease)
- Sulfur Dioxide (burning fossil fuels)
- Nitrous Oxide
Bronchiolitis obliterans can also develop as a complication of rheumatoid arthritis or a lung transplant. Bronchitis and pneumonia can also increase the risk of developing popcorn lung.
How Do Doctors Treat Bronchiolitis Obliterans?
Doctors diagnose popcorn lung through physical examinations, analyzing symptoms and risk factors, and conduct diagnostic tests, such as CT scans and x-rays. In some cases, a lung biopsy might be necessary to diagnose popcorn lung accurately.
Sadly, there is no known cure for popcorn lung. Some treatments can slow the progress, but mainly doctors treat the symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans. Medications used to treat popcorn lung include:
- Oxygen therapy
- Cough suppressants
- Immunosuppressive medications
A lung transplant could become necessary to save a person’s life, but there is no guarantee that the transplant will work.
Recovering Compensation for a Popcorn Lung Claim?
Workers diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans may have a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. They might also have a claim against their employer or a third party, depending on the circumstances surrounding the development of popcorn lung. Workers could receive compensation for their lost wages, medical bills, permanent impairment, and other damages because of popcorn lung.
Employees who work in factories that use flavoring chemicals or other chemicals associated with bronchiolitis obliterans are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Safety measures are required to reduce the workers’ exposure to the chemicals.
Measures that can help reduce the risk of popcorn lung include wearing personal protective gear, adequate ventilation, and ongoing safety training and education for workers.
Negligence and intentional wrongdoing can give rise to an injury claim for bronchiolitis obliterans. Examples of negligence that could result in a personal injury claim include:
- Failure to educate, warn, and train factory workers about the dangers of popcorn lung
- Failing to provide safety equipment for workers and train workers on the proper use of safety equipment
- Violating federal and state laws, regulations, and standards for the safe use of chemicals in manufacturing
- Failure to monitor the levels of the chemicals in the air that employees breathe
If you experience any of the symptoms of popcorn lung, seek immediate medical attention. Report the condition to your employer as quickly as possible.
It is also wise to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim. An injury lawyer reviews your case to determine all parties that might be responsible for your injury. You could have multiple claims, including workers’ compensation, workplace injury claims, and third party claims.