Popcorn Lung Disease: What Are the Symptoms of the Fatal Illness?

Sep 20, 2012 11:29 PM EDT | By Bradley Brown

In Colorado, Wayne Watson who ate two packs of microwave popcorn daily for 10 years, won a lawsuit against manufacturers claiming that the fumes of freshly heated butter-flavored popcorn caused his "popcorn lung." But what are the symptoms and origins of this mysterious and rare disease?

The term "popcorn lung", which stands for bronchiolitis obliterans, originally came up because microwave-popcorn factory workers at flavoring plants inhaled large amounts of diacetyl fumes, a chemical that was used for flavoring popcorns. Animal studies have shown that diacetyl severely damages airways.

The popcorn lung disease can be diagnosed when the smallest airways of the lung become scarred and constricted, blocking off movement of air. Its symptoms include dry cough, scarring and hardening of lung tissue, shortness of breath, weight loss, night sweat, fever, and skin peeling. Especially shortness of breath appears to be similar to asthma or chronic bronchitis. It is said that the illness is rare and irreversible, even potentially fatal.

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